Types of Divorce Court Orders

by Beverly Bird

While you're married, you can do what you like with your money and your children, as long as you don't break any laws. It's your constitutional right, but this changes when you or your spouse files for divorce. When you begin a divorce action, some of the most basic details of your life become dictated by court orders, either the ones you reach by agreement with your spouse or those that a judge issues if the court must make decisions for you.

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Case Management Orders

One of the first steps in the divorce process is setting deadlines by which both spouses will file certain documents and complete discovery procedures. These deadlines are usually included in case management orders. This type of order gives a date by which both spouses will file financial affidavits, schedules parenting classes or mediation if there are children, names any appraisers who will value the couple's assets, and gives deadlines by which depositions, interrogatories and other types of discovery must be completed. In some states, spouses or their attorneys can simply agree on management orders and file them with the court. In other states, judges issue these orders.

Pendente Lite Orders

A pendente lite order preserves the status quo until your divorce is final. It might order a temporary parenting plan, set temporary child support or spousal support, or order one spouse to pay the mortgage until property division is decided when the divorce is final. "Pendente lite" means "while litigation continues" -- in other words, until your divorce is final. Sometimes the terms of pendente lite orders are carried over into final judgments or decrees.

Stipulated Orders

A stipulated order is one in which spouses have reached an agreement on something without the court deciding the matter for them. A stipulated order can address a single issue -- such as parenting time -- or several issues, such as parenting time, child support and possession of the marital home. A final decree is stipulated when spouses reach a settlement agreement on all issues, but pendente lite orders can be stipulated as well. Some states call these "consent orders."

Final Decrees

Final decrees are orders that officially end the marriage, but they also include the many details of the divorce. They include the resolution of property division, debts, custody and support -- usually every issue of the marriage. Courts issue decrees when spouses reach marital settlement agreements by stipulation, or a judge will make the order after a trial. Some states call these "final judgments."

Post-Judgment Orders

Divorces don't always end with final judgments or decrees. Children grow older and parents' personal circumstances change. When these changes affect issues of custody or support, spouses can go back to court to have their decree modified. This results in a post-judgment or post-decree order. Spouses can also go back to court to ask a judge to enforce the decree if one of them is refusing to abide by its terms. If a spouse is stubbornly refusing to obey the decree without a good reason, the judge might find him in contempt. A contempt order imposes sanctions or punishment -- anything from jail time to ordering the uncooperative spouse to pay the other's attorney's fees and legal costs.