When parties litigate a civil case, there are many legal steps required in order to document the actions taken by the parties or by the court. One step that must be completed when a civil case terminates is to formally enter, or docket, the judgment ordered by the judge in the case. Orders of the court are not considered final until they have been entered into the court docket, or record of the case.
Definition of "Judgment"
A judgment is the legal term used to describe the final outcome of a civil case. Many times, a judgment is a monetary judgment ordering one party to the lawsuit to pay the other party money. A judgment, however, can include a variety of other orders of the court. In a custody lawsuit, for example, a judgment may order one party to have primary custody of the child in question.
Process for Obtaining a Judgment
A judgment is generally obtained in one of three ways. The first, and easiest, way is when the defendant, or respondent, does not file an official answer with the court to the complaint filed by the plaintiff. In that case, the plaintiff may ask for a default judgment based on the allegations made in the complaint. If an answer was filed by the defendant, the parties may reach a mutually agreeable resolution to the lawsuit without the need for trial. In that case, the parties can file an agreed entry or agreed judgment for the court's approval. Finally, if the parties cannot reach an agreement, then the lawsuit will proceed to trial, where a judge or jury will decide the issues involved in the case. Those decisions, or rulings, become the basis for the judgment.
Entry/Docketing a Judgment
Regardless of how a judgment is obtained, the judgment must be officially entered with the court, or docketed, before it is considered a legal and enforceable judgment. Court procedures will vary somewhat with regard to how a judgment is prepared for entry; however, the process is similar in all courts. Small-claims courts typically provide litigants a form that can be used to reduce the court's orders to a judgment for entry. In higher courts, a judgment is usually prepared for entry by the attorney. Once the judgment has been reduced to writing, it must be filed with the clerk of courts. In some cases, the clerk has the authority to sign, or file stamp, the judgment; while in others the judge must review it first and sign off on it before entry. Once signed, the judgment is officially entered into the court record.
The judgment prepared for entry must precisely reflect the agreement of the parties or the rulings of the court or it will not be accepted and entered. If a party fails to reduce a court's order to writing and enter the judgment into the court record, then the orders are not legally enforceable. For example, if the court ordered the defendant to pay a monetary sum to the plaintiff, the plaintiff cannot begin enforcement efforts on the judgment until it has been properly entered into the court record.