You have survived the separation and the divorce. You have either come up with a settlement agreement together or have had a judge determine what your divorce order looks like. Finally, you think, you can move forward and make plans based on what has been written. Not so fast. The judgment is one thing but enforcing it is another.
If you wrote your own agreement, the hope is that you addressed everything necessary and every situation is clearly laid out in terms of what, when, where and how things need to happen. Suppose your ex decides he no longer agrees with the access schedule or how much child support he pays. Maybe he agreed to buy your child a car when she is old enough to drive and now that she has her driver’s license, he has changed his mind. Whatever the situation is, if it is clearly written in the agreement, he is not abiding by it.
The first thing to consider is what category of the order is being violated: child custody and visitation, property division and financial promises or child support. Then you want to think about what your motivation is for enforcing the order. Lastly, you want to make sure that you have “clean hands” when it comes to the order. The court does not look favorably upon those who accuse another of violating an order when they themselves are in violation.
The first course of action is to ask your ex to comply with the order. I would recommend that you do this through email, so you have a record of trying to work it out. If you cannot work it out between the two of you and your ex continues to be in violation of the order or agreement, you have options.
Look to your judgment or agreement to determine if there is a clause that dictates how you should proceed if one of you is in violation of the order. It may state that you have agreed to mediation before filing a motion with the court.
If your ex isn’t complying with a child support order, you may be able to use the enforcement services provided by your local Child Support Enforcement Agency. This agency has an incredible ability to find and attach income or assets for purposes of enforcing child support orders. They are inundated with cases and are selective in which cases they take on and may choose to not represent you. However, they have other methods that do not involve representing you in court that are helpful. It is worth going in person to speak with them about your case and options.
You have the option of filing a motion to ask the court to hold him in contempt. You can file this yourself, which is not difficult or work with an attorney to file. If you decide to do this on your own, there are attorneys who will help you for free. For example, In Maryland, the law library at the Anne Arundel Court House has family law attorneys that will assist you in preparing the documents you need to file with the court. Check to see if your state or county have a similar resource.
Have you heard the expression, “the wheels of justice turn slowly”? This is very true in Family Court. It can take months for your case to be heard. Often the judge will give your ex the opportunity to purge the contempt charge himself by agreeing in court to abide by the order. Assuming he agrees to do so, you leave court expecting him to do as he has promised the judge he would.
He doesn’t. Now what? Unfortunately, you begin all over again. Ultimately, if you’re trying to enforce a judgment or agreement you may need to make multiple attempts over long periods of time until you find full and final satisfaction.
If enforcement is essential, be diligent and persistent in your efforts. I get it, you’re tired. You want all of the loose ends in your divorce to be tied up. You want to move on. But if you’ve decided enforcement is necessary or extremely important to you, you can’t give up.