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How to Read an Order

Legal Authority:

12 OS § 696.3 Judgments, Decrees and Appealable Orders That are Filed Should Contain the Following
OAC 340:2-28-17.2. Pleadings and motion practice

People appear in court for numerous reasons such as divorce, child support, spousal support, license revocation, and so on.  This article will help you to read and interpret court orders that relate to child support enforcement.  Knowing how to locate and understand the information in a court order is an important part of the child support services process.

If you are a new employee, this article complements the required LMS online course How to Read a Court Order.  If you have not completed this LMS course, please do so soon.  Within the online course you not only will learn about the information in this article but will also be able to see images of different types of orders, and complete quizzes about the course information.

Court Order Basics

The court order is the primary document that defines the legal obligations of the non-custodial parent (NCP).  A court order is best described as a directive, or an instruction, issued by the court.  It contains all the details about how much child support is to be paid as well as other information about a child support case.

For effective child support enforcement, the current child support order must be valid and legally binding. In order to enforce current support, the child support order must be active (currently in force) and the children named in the order must be minors.

Arrears and Judgments

Past due child support payments are called arrears. Be aware that arrears do accrue under a court order.

When a judge confirms the amount of arrears, it becomes a judgment.

Example of a Judgment

A couple got divorced in January 2007. The father was ordered to pay $300 per month in child support. At the end of December 2007, no support had been paid. The arrears were $3300 through November plus current support for December in the amount of $300.00.  The total due through December was $3600.00.

Technically, the past due child support is a judgment as soon as it becomes past due since the non-custodial parent (NCP) was previously ordered to pay it. If this situation exists, it is called a Judgment by Operation of Law.

However, arrears that are judgments based on Operation of Law are not listed in the computer system as judgment balance types.  They remain listed as arrears until a judge has certified the amount of the arrears.

Common Types of Orders

There are several types of orders that can be associated with a child support case. As you become more familiar with each type of court order, you will be able to quickly identify each type and know where to locate specific child support information found on that type of order.

Here are a few of the common types of orders you will be working with:

  • A Divorce Decree lists all orders of the court such as division of assets, payment of outstanding debts, custody of minor children, visitation rights, and how much child support will be paid by the NCP. If child support is ordered in the divorce decree, CSS can also enforce spousal support.
  • A Temporary Order can be entered in a case prior to the final order and sets the court’s orders while the divorce is pending. Be aware that the child support amounts can change when the final divorce decree is issued. The temporary order is enforceable but the current support terminates when the final divorce decree is entered. Be sure to compare the amounts in the temporary order and the final order. Temporary orders can be set in district court actions as well as administrative proceedings.
  • The Order for Child Support sets an amount of money that is to be provided by a parent for the support of the parent’s child(ren) and/or the responsibility to provide health insurance, daycare costs, and medical support for the child(ren). This amount or responsibility must be established by court order or administrative process, voluntary agreements (in states or tribes where such agreements are filed in the court or agency of the administrative process as an order and are legally enforceable) or other legal process.  It may include a judgment for child support arrears.
  • A Paternity Order establishes legal paternity of the children and identifies the biological father. The non-custodial parent (NCP) is ordered to pay child support, and may be ordered to pay support for a prior period. He may also be ordered to pay health care coverage, childcare costs, and the cost of paternity testing. The alleged father can also initiate the paternity action.
  • An Order for Medical Support lists medical coverage provided for a child or children pursuant to an order. This includes: (1) private health insurance, (2) publicly-funded health coverage if a parent is ordered by a court or administrative process to provide cash medical support payments to help pay the cost of Medicaid or Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), (3) cash medical support, including payment of health care premiums, and (4) payment of medical bills (including dental or eye care). Medical support may be provided by the custodial parent, noncustodial parent, or another person, such as a stepparent.
  • An Annual Notice is sent by CSS to NCPs and custodial persons in IV-D cases in order to determine arrears and set a payment plan, unless the amount of past due support has been determined in a court proceeding within the past twelve months. When the Annual Notice (AN) is sent to the NCP, he/she has a certain time period to protest the amounts or facts within the notice.  If they do not request an administrative hearing, the notice is filed in District Court and becomes an order. The AN confirms the amount of past support and establishes a payment plan to collect past support. The AN also instructs the NCP to redirect the support payments to the Centralized Support Registry, and advises the NCP parent of the amount of past support and collection actions that may be taken to collect the support debt.

An order can be further categorized depending on who issued the order and where it was issued.

Judicial Order
A judicial order is issued by a judge in the District Court where the action took place. In Oklahoma, there is a district court in every county in the state. Your office could work with several district courts which may specify a different support amount as each child reaches the age of majority.
Administrative Order
An administrative order is issued by an administrative law judge who is assigned to work for the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, Office of Administrative Hearings.

Parts of an Order

While judicial and administrative orders may look different, they both contain the information that you may be looking for.

  • State – This is the state in which the order was obtained. This state typically retains jurisdiction over the order.
  • County – the County in which the order was obtained.
  • Style – This refers to the format of the order. In the current style for district court orders, the terms Petitioner and Respondent are used. In the older style format, you will see the terms Plaintiff and Defendant used.
  • Court File Numbers
    • Oklahoma District Court – Effective January 1, 2010, all district courts shall adopt a uniform case numbering system. All cases shall bear a case prefix, then a hyphen and then all four digits of the calendar year, which shall be followed by a hyphen and the number of the case. Cases shall be consecutively numbered within a calendar year. Example: FD-2010-1234. Beginning January 1, 2010, and on each January 1 thereafter, the four digits of the calendar year designation shall be changed and the consecutive case number shall begin again with number 1. Case numbers must be assigned by the District Court Clerks to ensure that the cases remain in sequence. Effective January 1, 2010, each court shall adopt and exclusively use the case types/prefixes set forth in Exhibit “A” which was incorporated within the Directive by reference. (The changed numbering system was decided by an Administrative Directive re: District Court Numbering System, Case Types, and Cover Sheets, through the Supreme Court of the State of Oklahoma, Case Number SCAD-2009-101, decided 11/24/2009, as corrected February 1, 2010.)
      Note: Prior to January 1, 2010, District Court Numbers were formatted with a case prefix, then a hyphen, then the last two digits of the calendar year, which was followed by a hyphen and the number of the case. Example: FD-12-2222.
    • OAH Administrative Court – An Administrative Order Court File Number follows OAC 340:2-28-26 Case Numbering, Revised 7-1-07. The Administrative Court Number starts with Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) followed by the year and case number with the last two digits designating the child support office the OAH number is assigned: Example: OAH NO: 12-44544-55.
  • Title of Order – The title of the order indicates its type. Be sure you know if the document is a notice or an order. Money does not become due under notices. Notices are sent to the parties prior to obtaining an order. Typical district court order titles include Divorce Decrees, Journal Entries and Paternity Orders. Administrative orders also are titled as Orders. Examples of administrative orders include Paternity Orders, Administrative Orders, Annual Notices and Orders for Child Support.
  • Hearing Date – This is the date the hearing was held before the judge and is the date you will use to document the order in OSIS.
    Note: If no date is listed in the order, use the file stamp date. Administrative orders list the date of the hearing in the first line of the order. Use this date when documenting the order electronically in the system, not the file stamp date.
  • Parties Present – Typically, the first paragraph will list all persons who attended the hearing (e.g. Petitioner, Respondent, and attorneys). If the respondent (defendant) failed to show, the court can still obtain a default order against him/her.
  • Findings and Orders – District Court Orders have a section for Findings and a section for Orders. Findings are different in that these items are not enforceable. The Orders section lists what the judge has ordered on the case. For example, the court may find that Current Support should be set at $300.00 per month. However, in the Orders section, Current Support may be set at $250.00 per month. CSS enforces the $250.00 per month. Administrative Orders do not have separate Findings and Orders sections. Everything is listed in one section.
  • Signatures – Before an order can be enforced, every type of order has to have a judge’s signature to be valid. Other signatures are not required.

Types of Information found on both Judicial and Administrative Orders

Note: As mentioned above, within the LMS Online course for How to Read a Court Order, you will find images of different types of orders.
  1. Date of the order (judicial or administrative) – found near the top of the first page of the order
  2. Order type – Judicial has “In the District Court” at top of page; Administrative has Office of Administrative Hearings: Child Support” at top of page.
  3. Amount of current support – For this section Judicial usually begins with “It is further Ordered, adjudged and decreed…” and the Defendant (named earlier in the order) is ordered to pay a certain amount from a start date and an ending date of support, ending usually when the child is 18 years old or graduates from high school.   Administrative usually begins with “Current Child Support” and includes the amount of current support, who is ordered to pay, start date of support, and end date of support.  It also shows that the amount of support was set using the Child Support Guidelines which are used to determine how much current support is owed.
  4. Who is ordered to pay – See Amount of current support
  5. Start Date of support – See Amount of current support
  6. End Date of support – See Amount of current support
  7. Which children are included – Will show which children are included (names and dates of birth) and per child aggregate (combined) amount. This information may or may not be located on the same page as the child support amount.
  8. Per Child or Aggregate order – See Which Children are included.
  9. Arrears – In a Judicial order, arrears and payment plans specify when the child support is due. An Administrative order addresses in detail arrears, accrual dates, and payments plans.
  10. Accrual dates for arrears – See Arrears
  11. Payment plan – See Arrears
  12. Spousal support – CSS only collects spousal support (alimony) when current support is also ordered. The location of spousal support (alimony) in each order will most likely vary. Spousal support is normally not addressed in an administrative order for child support.
  13. Medical coverage – Provisions for medical support, insurance, and other medical expenses for the children are usually spelled out in detail; however, the location of this information most likely will vary.
  14. Child care costs – A judicial order may or may not contain information regarding how child care is to be paid or how other types of support payments will be made. Be sure to read each order carefully and note if and where these items are located. Payment of the NCP’s portion of child care expenses is listed in the administrative order in a separate numbered paragraph.
  15. Special provisions – Any special provisions for the child support case may appear at the very end of the document, right about the Administrative Law Judge’s signature line.

Certified Copies of Orders

45 CFR 303.2 is the federal requirement for establishing new IV-D child support cases. It states that all case files must contain a certified copy of court orders that pertain to the case.

  • Certified orders prove to the court the order was actually entered by another court.
  • Certified orders are admissible in court.
  • Certified means the order is a copy of the original obtained from the court where it was entered, with a written assurance by a court official that the order is a true and correct copy of the original document.

Medical Coverage

When looking at medical support information, if the medical support is listed as a percentage, we cannot collect that amount.

It is important to note that child support services can only collect a sum certain dollar amount. For example, if the medical support amount is a dollar amount, such as $50 per month, you are responsible for collecting that amount.

Multiple Order Enforcement

The Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA) says that:

  • All states must cooperate in enforcing child support cases.
  • Families no longer have an order from every state they live in. One family has only one order.
  • Every state honors orders from other states under Full Faith and Credit.

The state in which the order was originally made retains jurisdiction as long as one party lives in the originating state. This is called Continuing Exclusive Jurisdiction.  Review CSQuest articles Concepts of UIFSA  and Identifying the Controlling Order and Which State has CEJ.

Full Faith and Credit means that states must recognize orders from other states. Certified orders from other states have the same authority as orders from Oklahoma. See the Full Faith and Credit for Child Support Orders Act (FFCCSOA) 28 U.S.C. Sec. 1738B.

If there are two Interstate orders for the same family:

  • All judgments from any tribunal with proper jurisdiction to issue a support order are entitled to Full Faith and Credit
  • Any missed payment under any child support order automatically becomes a judgment
  • Full faith and credit does not extend to future payments that are not yet judgments
  • There is simultaneous, not cumulative, accrual of the support obligation. This means that the amount of child support in each order is enforced. Other states can increase child support but they can’t decrease it.

If you have additional questions about how to read orders, you could review the required LMS online course How to Read an Order, or review any questions with your office’s staff or managing attorney.