Enforcing a Divorce Decree

Finally, you get the judge to sign your divorce decree.  You think the hard part is behind you and you can begin your new life.  Child custody and support decisions have been made and a child visitation schedule established. The property has been divided and spousal support awarded. The court has entered the final divorce decree. What could go wrong?

The terms of the divorce are set out in the final divorce decree. Both you and your ex-spouse are legally bound to follow them. If one of you disagrees with a provision or thinks a term is unacceptable or impossible to be complied with, that party must file a motion with the court asking for a modification of the order.

Simply refusing to comply with the order is not a choice and the party who violates the terms of the final divorce decree may be found in contempt of court. Some situations that frequently result in violations include:

  • The non-custodial parent fails to pay child support.
  • The custodial parent refuses to allow visitation by the non-custodial parent.
  • The non-custodial parent does not return the child to the custodial home.
  • The payer spouse fails to pay the court-ordered spousal support.

Motions for contempt

If your ex-spouse has violated a term of the final divorce decree, you can file a motion for contempt with the family law court. Your motion must explain exactly what term was violated and what your ex-spouse did that created the violation. When you file your papers with the court, you will be given a hearing date at the first available time.

If there is an emergency situation involving child custody or visitation, you may file a motion for an order shortening time asking for a hearing as soon as possible. It is up to the court to decide if an earlier hearing date is necessary. Your ex-spouse must be served with the contempt motion as well as the motion to shorten time.
Your ex-spouse will be able to reply to your motion and appear at the hearing to give the court his or her side of the story. Both of you will have the power to subpoena witnesses to come to court and testify on your behalf.

If you are the one bringing the motion for contempt, the burden is on you to prove your allegations at the court hearing that resembles a mini-trial. It is important for you to have a solid case and not just accuse your ex-spouse of contempt because you are angry.

After hearing all the evidence from both sides, the court will decide whether or not there has been a violation. If so, the violating party is found in contempt and the court has the authority to impose a fine and/or jail time or provide the violator time in which to correct the problem.

A written contempt order will detail the violation of and the remedy the court is imposing. In fashioning its order, the court will take into consideration the reasons for the contempt. If the one in contempt is given the opportunity to resolve the issue in controversy, the order will establish the court may award attorney fees to be paid.