Finally, your divorce is behind you. The judge signed the final documents, they were entered with the clerk, and you are officially divorced. The idea of never having to return to court is wonderful – until your ex does not comply or cooperate with what they agreed to do. Whether it is failure to pay child support or maintenance (alimony), not cooperating in selling the house, refusing to divide an account, there are many situations where the court’s intervention is required yet again.
A divorce judgment is a legally binding contract, just like any other contract people enter into. Ignoring a court order can have serious repercussions. Consequences of failing to abide by the divorce decree can include repayment plans, monetary sanctions including payment of your attorney’s fees, judgment interest, and even jail time, if the refusal to cooperate continues. In cases where child support remains unpaid, the responsible party is at risk of having their tax refund withheld, denial of a passport, wage garnishment, and driver’s license suspension.
What should you do if you are in this situation? First, you should talk to an attorney about your options. Make sure you provide a copy of the judgment and any other records that may reflect the lack of cooperation, including communications with your ex such as emails and text messages which demonstrate their wrongdoing and refusal to follow the contract as written. Rather than jumping into court, the first step could be the attorney drafting a strongly worded letter which explains the legal consequences and demands compliance. Often times, this will be enough to obtain the necessary cooperation. If your ex does not scare easily, then the next step is to file a petition with the court to find them in contempt for their lack of cooperation. Your attorney will prepare the necessary paperwork, which should include any evidence that you have gathered.
Once the petition is before the court, if the court finds that a violation occurred, the burden may shift to your ex to prove why their non-compliance is justified. If they are unable to do so, the court may take any action it deems necessary to enforce the court order, including those items listed above (fines, freezes on accounts, judgment interest, payment of your fees, and even jail time until compliance occurs). If your ex is able to show that their inability to cooperate was due to circumstances outside of their control, such as job loss due to an injury, or a similar situation, the court may be less inclined to penalize them with additional fines, but will expect repayment in a manner that is reasonable. Under those circumstances, your ex would have an obligation to seek a modification of the order, rather than failing to comply but doing nothing to bring their new situation to the court’s attention.
Contact a family law attorney. Hurst, Robin & Kay, is a full-service family law firm that has both mediators and collaborative attorneys available for those seeking non-traditional avenues in divorce.