What Is the Difference Between a Court Order and a Judgment in Divorce?

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When disputes occur during or after a divorce, the court may issue various orders that are enforceable in court. However, there are limitations to a court order. One of the most important of these is that a court order cannot be used to seize property if your ex-spouse owes you money. That’s when you need to seek a judgment.

Purpose of a Court Order

A court order is a direction to a party to take or refrain from taking an action. Underlying the court order is a legal obligation that the party must perform which the court directs by issuing an order. For example, when you get divorced, you and your spouse agree to (or the court imposes on you) certain obligations regarding child and/or spousal support, custody and parenting time and division of your marital property. These are orders incorporated into a divorce judgment, which directs you to comply with those obligations. If either of you violates the divorce judgment, the other party can go back to court to enforce it

However, where the offending party fails to comply with a financial obligation, the injured party may need to seek a separate judgment that allows him or her to obtain the other spouse’s property in payment for the debt owed under the divorce judgment. It is that separate judgment which permits the sheriff to seize the offending party’s property.

Notably, if you are seeking enforcement of child support, there are additional actions you can take, including administrative enforcement

Converting a Court Order Into a Judgment 

If you need to obtain a judgment, you can convert the court order to pay support or other obligation into a judgment fairly easily. This is done by requesting the judge to convert the order into a judgment and direct the court clerk to enter it against your spouse. When this is completed, the judgment can then be filed and enforced in any county where your spouse has property that can be seized.

Importantly, converting the order to a judgment doesn’t change the judge’s decision or the terms of the original court order or divorce decree by itself. Absent an additional request for relief, the conversion just creates a mechanism for enforcing the court order.

Court procedures in divorce can be confusing. Where the terms of a divorce or custody agreement are not being complied with, you need experienced legal representation. Contact us to help you enforce your agreement or advise you on your options if you haven’t complied with the divorce decree.

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