Divorce Settlement Enforcement and How To Petition for Contempt

Updated 04/06/19
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When dust from your divorce proceedings settle, you may sigh with relief. All the emotional and psychological labor you put toward your split is in the past...or so you hope. The last piece of security you need about your divorce is the promise that your agreement will be upheld. 

Some dismiss divorce settlements as just a piece of paper. While in very literal terms this is true, there are invisible legal forces that are at your disposal as well, to the extent that you and your ex have agreed in court (or mediation). The important thing to learn now is how to exercise said forces when there is a violation of the settlement. 

Divorce settlement agreements can be fairly basic. They can cover child support, visitation, and division of marital debt or, they can cover everything from right of first refusal to custody of the family pet. In other words, when it comes to these agreements there can be a few clauses that are easy for someone to ignore. If you get lucky you will never have to turn to the family court system to enforce your divorce settlement agreement, but to prepare for the worst, read about the steps you will need to take to enforce said agreement.

Defiance of Child Support and Alimony Orders

If your ex isn’t complying with court-ordered child support or spousal support you will need to hire a divorce attorney to file a petition for contempt. Once this is done a judge can “compel” your ex to pay by garnishing their wages or sending them to jail until they agree to make regular payments. 

In some states, you can report non-payment of child support to your local child support enforcement office. There are steps this office can take to collect child support on your behalf. If your state offers this service it will save you the money associated with having to use the courts to enforce the child support order.

Defiance of a Child Visitation Order

Just as with child support or spousal support, if your ex is refusing or interfering with your visitation rights you will need to hire a divorce attorney and file a petition for contempt of the divorce settlement agreement. 

Interference of visitation can be hard to prove. It is important that you keep records of every scheduled visitation you missed and how your ex obstructed your ability to see your child. These cases normally end up in court and you want to be able to prove your case. Documentation is a valuable asset in doing that.

Defiance of Marital Debt Payment

This issue can be tricky. The best way to combat shared debts is to pay it off prior to divorcing, but in the event that that is not possible, a judge will order one spouse or both to pay off certain debts once the divorce is final. 

What happens if your spouse refuses to pay a debt that is in both your names? Your credit score is negatively affected and you have no recourse with the financial institution because they do not recognize a divorce court order. This is something that most divorce attorneys fail to make their clients aware of. Please take this seriously, if your ex is ordered to pay a debt that is in both your names and doesn’t, the financial institution will come after you to collect the debt.

If you find yourself faced with this situation you will need to hire an attorney, take your ex to court, and get a judgment against him or her for the amount owed to the credit company. If your ex fails to pay support he or she can be held in contempt and even thrown into jail. When it comes to paying debts though, a judge can’t throw someone in jail for failure to do what they were ordered to do. 

You will have to get a judgment which will enable you to put a lien against any property your ex owns and that is no guarantee of ever seeing the money.

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