What is a Court Judgement v. an Award?

So What’s a Divorce or Court's judgment?

A divorce or a court's judgment is another name for a final judgment of divorce. It’s a document that is signed by a judge and entered into court and is a final judgment of divorce. What the final paper is called is not nearly as important as what it does: it ends your marriage.

So What’s an Award versus a Court's judgment?

An AWARD is similar to a Court's judgment. An award is a final judgment of sorts but is arrived via an ADR process (An Alternative Dispute Resolution process. When a private arbitrator is retained, then when they issue an Award it is akin to a judgment but is termed an Award as it is arrived through a privately conducted arbitration process. An Award will deal with issues such as parenting decision-making responsibilities, parenting time, Section 7 expenses and the like.

What’s in a Divorce or Court Judgment?

Your divorce judgment does more than just divorce you, though. It also covers at least five subjects:
  • Spousal support
  • Child Support and Section 7 Expenses, such as extraordinary expenses
  • Parenting Issues such as parenting decision making and parenting time, formerly known as custody and access
  • Property Division
  • Debt Division
In addition, depending upon your circumstances, your divorce judgment may also contain many other provisions relating to the end of your marriage.

What’s the Difference Between a Divorce Judgement and a Marital Settlement Agreement?

While statistics vary, at least 90 – 95% of all divorce cases settle out of court. Cases that settle do so by agreement. That means the final paperwork in those cases will include both a Divorce Judgment and a Marital Settlement Agreement, otherwise known as Minutes of Settlement (MOS). Even though the Marital Settlement Agreement may be a separate document, however, it is generally incorporated into the Divorce Judgment. That means that the terms of the Agreement are made a part of the final divorce judgment.

Who Writes a Divorce Judgement?

Divorce Judgments are very specific legal documents. They must contain certain language and they must be accurate. They also must be written properly. If your divorce judgment is NOT written properly, then you may find out after the fact that it doesn’t really say what you thought it said. Or you may find out that something that SHOULD have been written into your divorce judgment is missing. That’s when you have a problem. When something is wrong, vague, or missing from your divorce decree it is much more likely that you and your spouse will end up back in court, fighting over it again. That’s NOT what you want to have happen. Because the final divorce documents in your case are so important and can be so technical, generally counsel/s write them. Using an online document production service to generate your Marital Settlement Agreement and Divorce Judgment is better than trying to write them yourself. But having a divorce lawyer write them for you will be better still. Lawyer-written documents will be written specifically for you and your situation by someone who practices family law in the court that will divorce you. That makes a HUGE difference. It’s true that having a lawyer write your final divorce documents will be more expensive than having an online service crank them out for you. But, like everything else in life, you get what you pay for.

What Do You Need to Know About Your Divorce Judgment Before It’s Entered?

Divorce Judgments are final Orders of the Court. They MUST be accurate and they should be complete! That’s why it is vitally important for you to double and triple-check everything in your divorce judgment BEFORE it’s entered in court. But checking for accuracy goes beyond just reading the words in your divorce decree. It means that you have to make sure that the underlying information that the decree is based on is also accurate. What does that mean? It means that if your divorce judgment says that you get $10,000 from your bank account and your spouse gets $10,000 from your bank account, that you actually have $20,000 in your bank account to split! It also means that you did your due diligence before your divorce judgment is entered in court to make sure that the asset values you used to divide your marital property are accurate. Otherwise, the property division you end up with after your divorce may be entirely different than what you envisioned it would be before your divorce. Here’s an example.

The McCourt Divorce

In 2010 Jamie and Frank McCourt, former owners of the Los Angeles Dodgers, were divorced. At the time of the divorce, the Dodgers were in bankruptcy. Jamie received $131 million and several luxury homes in the divorce settlement. Frank McCourt received sole ownership of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Frank later sold the Dodgers for $2 billion. After Frank sold the Dodgers, Jamie took him back to court claiming that he misrepresented the value of the team, and that he shortchanged her by $770 million in their divorce. The trial court ruled against Jamie, and the Appellate Court affirmed that decision. In essence, the court held that Jamie had made a deal. Even though it turned out later that she had made a bad deal, a deal was a deal. Jamie should have investigated how much the Dodgers were worth BEFORE she signed the divorce settlement papers. If she didn’t do her due diligence, that was her problem. She couldn’t go back and ask Frank to pay her more money after their divorce was over. Chances are, neither can you.

Can You Change Your Judgement After It Has Been Entered in Court?

Once the judge has entered the divorce judgment in court, it is extremely difficult – if not impossible — to go back and change most of the terms of the deal you made. It’s also difficult to go back and correct errors in the judgment as well. Of course, if your spouse agrees to change your divorce judgment, you can do whatever you want. Correcting errors can be in BOTH of your best interests. But if your spouse doesn’t agree to change what you want, then changing your divorce decree can be a real problem. Also, like Jamie McCourt, you have an obligation to investigate your own financial situation. If you don’t take the time to investigate your whole financial situation before you sign a settlement agreement, and you make a bad deal, that’s your problem. Of course, if your spouse purposely lied to you, or actively hid the truth from you, that may be a different story. But, proving that kind of fraud in court is much more difficult than you think. There is one important exception to the rule that “a deal is a deal.” That exception surrounds your kids.

Changing “Children” Provisions 

Children grow up. Circumstances change. Because of that, you can usually change parenting time schedules and parenting rules as your children grow up. Again, if you and your spouse can agree on those changes, making them in court is easy. If you don’t agree, then you may be in for a fight. But at least, under the right circumstances, the parenting provisions in your divorce judgment can be changed. So can child support (and sometimes even spousal support). If you or your spouse change jobs, or your income increases or decreases in a substantial way, child support (and possibly spousal support) can be changed.