A sad but true reality about divorce is that the court’s divorce decree is sometimes only the first step in an ongoing process. Unfortunately, a divorce decree is like any other contract or agreement – the parties do not always fulfill their obligations.
Fortunately, divorce decrees are legally binding and must be followed. If terms are broken, they can be enforced through court action.
Enforcement actions begin in civil court. Criminal charges may apply in some situations, such as failing to make child support payments.
The party that violates the divorce judgement can face fines, jail time and modification of their custody rights. Plus, the individual who fails to comply with a divorce decree can be forced to pay the other side's attorneys' fees.
What Happens First?
The first step in the enforcement process is to file a motion with the court. The motion can ask that the other party be found in contempt of court for failing to comply with any provisions of the divorce agreement. Typically, the court then will require that the other side appear in court and explain why they should not be held in contempt.
If the court eventually rules that the individual is in contempt, he or she is given a period of time to correct the situation (for example, pay child support that is owed).
Divorce Provisions That Are Violated Most Often
Here are court-ordered divorce provisions that most often are broken and require enforcement:
- Child support — The ex-spouse is not paying enough in child support, or the payments are being made late.
- Visitation — The ex-spouse is violating the terms that apply to visiting your children.
- Division of debt — The ex-spouse is not meeting his or her payment obligations and your credit is being affected.
- Co-parenting — The ex-spouse is discouraging the relationship between you and your children.
To fully protect your rights and those of your children, it is important to seek legal counsel when attempting to enforce the terms of a divorce.