Having an ex spouse not following the divorce decree can be extremely frustrating. Once your divorce decree is issued, you may assume that all matters are settled and that you will not have to revisit them again in the future. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. While the court can and will enforce the decree, you cannot force your former spouse to adhere to those terms. What can you do if your ex violates your divorce decree?
What Is a Divorce Decree?
A divorce decree is the final judgment and decree that contains the final information dissolving your marriage. It includes things like:
- Parenting time/visitation rights
- Child Support
- Spousal maintenance
- Division of property
- Division of debt
With those issues clearly laid out by a binding legal document, it should be much easier to manage any issues that might come up in the future. However, some people find that their ex spouse is not following the divorce agreement as they should, which can lead to significant problems down the road.
What Should I Do If My Ex Violates the Divorce Decree?
Maybe your ex fails to show up on time each time you’re supposed to exchange your children for visitation, or you never receive child support or spousal maintenance payments on time. Perhaps your spouse has failed to take your name off a communal credit card, leaving that debt as a mark against your credit in spite of the fact that you have nothing to do with it. Any time your ex spouse is not following the divorce decree, you may find your frustration rising. So, what comes next?
1. Do Not Stop Complying in Retaliation
When your ex violates the divorce decree, it’s often tempting to stop complying yourself in retaliation. However, in order to help your case if you do have to go back to court, make sure you comply with the divorce decree to the letter yourself. Assuming that your ex spouse is not following the divorce agreement gives you the freedom to stop taking the children to exchange locations for visitation, or ignore the property division terms laid out in the divorce agreement, for example, but this could land you into legal trouble. Instead, follow through with the court’s order as you would have from the beginning. You do not want to find yourself held in Contempt of Court along with your ex.
2. Document the Violations
Keep a record of each time you notice your ex spouse not following the divorce agreement, whether for child support, visitation, or property division. If needed, keep communications to a form that you can copy for later reference, including text messages or other written messages. Note dates, times, and specific violations. The more information you keep in your records, the better it may work out for you in the future.
Most of the time, the court will do little about a single violation, especially one that occurs out of error. Repeated violations, on the other hand, could represent a more serious problem and lead to Contempt of Court charges. By tracking those violations carefully, you can create a clear record of your ex’s intentions regarding child support, property division, and visitation and how they have handled your divorce decree.
3. Communicate Calmly with Your Ex
Talk to your ex to determine if you can work out any issues together. Ask about the reason for those violations. Sometimes, it may be a mistake: your ex might have misinterpreted the agreement, for example, especially in terms of complex issues like property division.
In other cases, you may be able to come to an agreement together that will help you manage the discrepancy between the terms of your divorce decree and what your ex is actually able to accomplish. For example, you may discover that your ex needs to shift child exchange times due to changing work obligations, or that shifting support payments by a few days can lead to a great deal more consistency. Try to talk calmly about the challenges each of you are facing so that you can come to a reasonable, equitable agreement, particularly in the case of short-term challenges.
4. Speak with a Family Law Attorney
If you cannot get your ex to come to a reasonable agreement regarding adherence to the terms of the divorce decree, talk to a family law attorney about your potential next steps. Whether you need to rearrange your parenting time demands, or fix your spouse’s response to property division decrees in your divorce agreement, a lawyer can give you more information about how to ensure that you are properly documenting any violations of the divorce decree or how to enforce it, if possible.
5. As a Final Resort, File a Motion for Contempt of Court
Contempt of Court is serious. It is a criminal charge that, if grave enough, could lead to jail time for your ex. In general, minor offenses-being a couple of days late on a child support payment, for example-will not lead to serious contempt charges. On the other hand, more severe violations could result in considerable consequences. Filing a motion for Contempt of Court can lead to:
- Wage garnishment for defied support payments
- Additional parenting time if the other parent has refused your parenting time
- Modified divorce or custody agreements to raise the odds of compliance (including potential loss of custody)
- Criminal consequences
While filing a motion for Contempt of Court is a last resort, it can also serve as a powerful way to ensure that your ex adheres to your original agreement at the time of your divorce.
Get Help with Divorce Decree Violations from an Experienced Attorney
If you have an ex spouse who violates the divorce decree, one of our family law attorneys can help. Contact us today to learn more about our services and how they can benefit you when your ex spouse is not following the divorce agreement.