When a divorce is finalized, both parties are given a final legal document detailing all settlements and arrangements agreed to during the divorce process, including child custody, child support, spousal support, and property division. This document is called a divorce decree, a dissolution decree, or divorce settlement agreement. Unfortunately, not everyone follows their divorce decree as they should. If your spouse fails to abide by the divorce decree after your divorce is final, you could wind up without your rightful properties, child support funds, or alimony payments. Not only is this inconvenient and frustrating, but it could lead to serious financial hardship or issues with your children. If your ex-spouse refuses to follow the divorce settlement agreement, find out what you can do to enforce the court order and protect your rights.
A Divorce Decree Is A Legally Binding Document
A divorce decree is a legal document that establishes all agreements set forth during your divorce. This can include your parenting plan, visitation schedule, child custody arrangement, child support payments, spousal support obligations, and property division. Once the agreement is entered into by the court, it becomes a court order, which is legally binding. By ignoring a court order, the negligent party could face serious repercussions.
Disobeying A Divorce Decree
There are several ways in which a person can disobey their divorce decree, including:
Property Division Issues
When a couple divides their debts and assets, it’s not likely to happen overnight. Smaller possessions need to be sorted through, and properties may need to be sold or the deeds may need to be altered to reflect the new ownership. Distributing the assets can take time, and it may continue even after the decree is issued. If you still have unfinished business regarding your division of assets, your ex might refuse to give you assets that are rightly yours, or they may attempt to put it off as long as possible. Ultimately, you could wind up without some of the properties, assets, or funds promised to you in the divorce settlement.
Problems With Child Custody And Visitation
Disobeying child custody and visitation orders can be very troublesome and can take away some of the valuable time you have with your children. In more serious cases, your ex might forbid you from seeing your children, even if the court granted you visitation or joint custody. Even somewhat milder issues, like forgetting about scheduled visits or continually dropping off the children after the agreed-upon time, can be disruptive and problematic.
Failure To Pay Spousal Support Or Child Support
Managing your finances after a divorce is usually difficult, especially if your ex fails to pay you the child support or alimony they are required. Even late payments could make it more difficult for you to pay your bills on time, which could affect your credit score, your living situation, and your ability to provide necessities for your children. When your ex continually delays or misses support payments, you have every right to ask the court to enforce the existing orders.
Enforcing A Divorce Decree
While there isn’t much you can personally do to make your spouse follow the orders in the divorce decree, because it is a court order, you ask a judge to enforce the order on your behalf. (It is also important to note here that you should call the police immediately if your ex-spouse is engaging in criminal or threatening behavior, such as theft, property destruction, or even kidnapping.) First, discuss the issue with your attorney and consider your options. Sometimes, a strongly worded letter from your attorney to your spouse, explaining the legal ramifications of disobeying a divorce decree, is enough to move things along. If the situation doesn’t improve, work with your attorney on the next steps. If you plan to take the issue to court, your attorney will likely advise you to gather evidence of your ex-spouse’s behavior. Collect emails, text messages, account statements, or voicemails that include any amount of proof that your ex has refused to follow the terms set forth in your divorce settlement. Each of these sources can be used as evidence in court. When the judge reviews your case, he or she will decide how best to proceed in order to enforce the agreement.
The judge may penalize your ex-spouse in the following ways:
• Freeze accounts
• Lien on business or house
• Loss of driver’s license, passport, or professional license
• Income garnishment
• Withholding tax refunds
In some cases, you may also be allowed to modify your parenting plan. In extremely serious situations, the judge may find your ex in contempt of court for failing to follow a court order.
Common examples of divorce decree violations include the following:
• Failing to vacate or sell the family residence
• Refusing to pay spousal support or child support
• Failing to adhere to a shared parenting arrangement
• Failing to provide for the division of retirement accounts
• Failing to surrender property assigned in the decree
• Refusing to turn over a pet assigned in the decree
• Failing to pay off designated debt obligations
How to Enforce a Divorce Decree Through the Courts
A divorce decree is a legally executed document signed by a judge, and is enforceable through the courts. Failure to comply can lead to fines and even jail time. Depending on the facts of the case, the judge will either hold the defendant in contempt, determine a time frame to gain compliance, or amend the divorce decree. The judge may also award penalties and/or attorney costs to the petitioner. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that a recalcitrant spouse won’t continuously lapse into non-compliance. In some cases, it takes several appearances to gain complete cooperation.
What Steps Are Involved in Filing a Contempt Action?
• Carefully review your divorce decree: Before you file a motion for contempt, it is important that you carefully reread your divorce decree in order to ensure a violation has actually occurred. You will need to be able to prove that your spouse has willfully violated the order.
• Try to reason with your ex-spouse: Before taking your case to court, you should try reasoning with your ex-spouse. Sometimes, it may be enough to let them know that you are ready to go to court if they cannot figure out a way to comply with your divorce decree.
• File a contempt motion with the court: If your ex-spouse is unwilling to comply with the decree, you can file a motion for contempt in the same court that finalized your divorce. The court would then schedule a hearing and serve your ex-spouse with a notification.
• Present your case at the contempt hearing: At the contempt hearing, you will present your case to the judge. They will review all evidence about the alleged violation and then hear the defendant’s side of the story regarding why they have failed to comply with the order.
How to Enforce Court Orders in Divorce
When a person receives an order in a divorce case, this order is backed up by the power of the court. If a spouse refuses to comply with the instructions included in the court order, there are usually ways to compel the spouse to follow the judge’s instructions.
Information Included in Divorce Decrees
The divorce decree may provide a wealth of information regarding the dissolution of the marriage and other subjects. The divorce decree may include information regarding the couple’s children, such as custody, visitation and child support information. It may also include information about spousal maintenance or how certain marital property should be distributed.
Reasons for Enforcement Needs
A spouse may need to enforce a court order if the other spouse is not complying with a material provision of the decree. For example, the other spouse may not be paying spousal support or child support. He or she may not be complying with the visitation schedule or parenting plan, such as by refusing visitation or failing to return the child according to the schedule.
Consequences of Being Found in Contempt
If the spouse is found guilty of contempt, the judge can punish him or her for not following the decree’s directions. For the first offense, the judge may let the noncompliant spouse off with a warning. However, the judge usually has the discretion to order sanctions against the noncompliant spouse, such as being required to pay for the moving party’s court costs or attorney’s fees. The judge may also be able to order the noncompliant spouse to be subject to a new parenting plan or to provide additional time with the children that the moving spouse lost due to the noncompliance. The spouse may be ordered to serve time in jail in some cases. If the case involves money, the judge may order a lien against the noncompliant spouse’s property or the interception of business funds or a tax refund.
This final order may
• Order your former spouse to pay you.
• Award you certain property.
Can I change the child support amount?
You can try. Either parent can file a motion to change the child support amount if the case meets certain conditions, such as
• the income of one or both parents changes greatly
• one or more child turns twelve
How do I enforce the final parenting plan?
Contact the family law facilitator, if your county has one, or talk to a lawyer.
When should I get a lawyer?
You may want one if either of these is true:
• DCS cannot handle your case
• your county has no family law facilitator
*You do not have a right to a lawyer in divorce cases. You must pay for one. If you cannot afford a lawyer, you can look for one to take your case on a contingent basis or who offers “limited legal services” (“unbundled legal services,” “pro se assistance”). A lawyer who takes your case on a contingent basis will only charge you if you win. The lawyer gets part of the award. A lawyer takes a case on a contingent basis depending on
• How much is at stake
• If you can find your ex
• If your ex-spouse can pay
Under a limited legal services arrangement, the lawyer
• gives you legal advice
• looks over or helps with paperwork
Make sure you have the info you may need to take collection action if your ex does not pay. You may need:
• your spouse’s social security number
• your spouse’s birthdate
• your spouse’s address
• your spouse’s work address
• your spouse’s work phone
• your spouse’s bank names and account numbers
• your spouse’s vehicle numbers
• a recent clear photo of your spouse
• a copy of the original order (a judge must have signed the order and it must have a file stamp on it)
Common Reasons To Request Enforcement Of The Divorce Decree
Often divorcees are left not knowing what to do when their ex-spouse has failed to live up to their obligations defined within the divorce decree. The following are examples of things you can enforce against:
• Failure to pay child support
• Non-payment of debts
• Failure to list or sell property to be sold under the agreement like a family home, car or other property
• Failure to divide a retirement plan
Each of these issues will depend on the structure and nature of your divorce decree and what your ex-spouse was failing to do.
Securing The Terms Of Your Divorce Judgment
Post-divorce, you may plan your life in reliance on the terms of your divorce decree. For example, dependent spouses rely on alimony, custodial parents rely on child support and non-custodial parents rely on compliance with their visitation schedules. So, when an obligated ex-spouse fails to fulfil the terms of the divorce decree, innocent parties suffer. If your ex-spouse is delinquent on payments or disruptive to your parenting time, you can petition the court for assistance.
Enforcing child support and alimony orders in Utah
An ex-spouse, who is obligated to make child support or alimony payments, may mistakenly believe they can stop or reduce their payments unilaterally because their income has changed. However, this is not the case. A child support/alimony modification attorney can petition for a change, but the order remains binding until a court officially changes it. Meanwhile, the delinquent obligor is in violation a support order, which invites additional penalties, including fines and jail time. In Utah, a dependent spouse or custodial parent can enforce a support order by filing a motion for an order to show cause with the help of a post-divorce enforcement lawyer. The obligor must then appear before the court to explain the violation. In many cases, a delinquent obligor will quickly become compliant to avoid facing a judge. In other cases, your post-divorce enforcement lawyer may need to argue for you at the hearing. This is especially true if the obligor asserts an inability to pay or denies that a violation occurred. In these instances, an experienced attorney can present compelling evidence and a strong argument on your behalf.
Enforcing A Divorce Decree Lawyer
When you need legal help to enforce a divorce decree in Utah, please call Ascent Law LLC for your free consultation (801) 676-5506. We want to help you.
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States
Telephone: (801) 676-5506