THE END OF THE CASE
THE COURT’S FINAL DECREE OR ORDER
Regardless of the type of case you have been involved in, the case is only concluded when one of the following things happens:
• the parties or one of them dismisses the case;
• the Court dismisses the case for want of prosecution (failure to comply with the Court’s mandated deadlines and procedures);
• the case is settled privately or in mediation and that agreement is filed with the Court and/or submitted as an agreed final order (in the form required by your type of case); or
• the case is tried to the Court and the Court states its decision which is then embodied in a final order or decree.
Whether the final ruling is called an order or decree, depends on the type of case filed, but the result is the same. The agreement or the decision of the court is stated therein and once it is signed by the Court,
• the court retains jurisdiction for 30 days during which upon proper motion, it may set aside, reform, correct and vacate its order (under some very rigid rules and procedures); or
• grant a new trial (do the trial all over again); or
• during which the court may be required to state its Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law (from which the Court of Appeals will begin its review of the case).
This 30 day period also encompasses the start of the appellate period during which a party must serve its notice of intent to appeal on the other party and upon the court.
The rules governing all of the above are very complex and extend well beyond this “30-day period”, but failure to timely start any of these processes during that 30-day period can be catastrophic to the complaining party’s right to seek relief from the final order signed by the court.
If none of these post-order/decree procedures are initiated within that 30-day period, the final order/decree truly becomes “final”, incapable of further attack (except in certain rare circumstances not covered here). The parties can obtain a certified copy of the order and to the extent that law enforcement is required to be involved in its enforcement, the parties may take the certified copy of the decree/order to law enforcement and law enforcement will render assistance to the limited degree provided by law (like, if the non-custodial parent refuses to return the a child at the end of a period of possession, a local constable or sheriff’s office will go to the residence of the non-custodial parent to attempt to achieve an amicable return of the child to the custodial parent).
However, there are strict restrictions on the role law enforcement can play in this enforcement process. Law enforcement is not an arm of the judiciary. It is not law enforcement’s job to interpret a final order. If a dispute arises concerning the health and safety of a child at the time of a court-ordered exchange of the child, the only thing law enforcement can do is to call Child Protective Services to remove the child from the conflict and the alleged danger. One never wants a child entered into CPS custody unless there is true danger to the child’s physical and emotional life and absolutely no other solution can be worked out. Neither party wins in that situation and the child will never recover from the horror of the parent’s conflict or being ripped from the child’s normal environment (home, family, friends and school) and placed in some protective group home for even a short period of time. Even this type of intervention by law enforcement is not at the direction of a court but is, rather, a part of law enforcement’s peace keeping authority. It is within the rights of law enforcement to refuse to get involved in disputes about the exchange of a child if law enforcement decides that the peace of the community is better solved by just letting the parties to the dispute take their disputes back to the court which issued the order.
Law enforcement has no part in the enforcement of the property portion of a final decree. The exception to this general rule arises when one party files a suit to enforce certain types of property awards (not covered here) and the court issues a specific, detailed order to local law enforcement regarding its role in the acquisition of that property.
Relative to enforcement of other provisions of a final decree/order relative to children, law enforcement is never required to intervene without a specific court order defining their role.