The ultimate goal of the divorce process is to hammer out a deal on finances, the division of property, child custody, spousal support, and other details. Sometimes things go relatively smooth; sometimes it’s a knockdown, drag-out brawl. It takes a while to get there, and it’s often an arduous journey. But once it’s done, it’s done, right? Not always, unfortunately. Not everyone abides by the decision. So the question remains, what can you do if your ex doesn’t follow the divorce agreement?
Once it’s handed down by the proper authorities, your divorce settlement is an official court order. By choosing not to abide by the agreement, your ex risks possible legal problems, including contempt. So the good news it, you have legal recourse. It’s not always easy, and it may take some time and resources, but there are options out there.
A simple misunderstanding is one thing. It’s possible that either you or your ex read the court order and misinterpreted the language or the specifics about weekend visitation or pick-up or drop-off times. The same goes for a spousal support payment being few days late once or twice. Things happen, but in the grand scheme of things, these are relatively minor incidents. If your relationship is amicable, it’s probably even possible to correct these problems.
Accidents and occasional delays are bound to happen. It’s when these slights are willful and form a pattern where serious problems arise. When your ex simply refuses to abide by the ruling, that’s something much more serious. This can take many forms, from not paying child support or spousal support, to not handing over property awarded you in the settlement, or violating any of the other terms laid down in the court order.
If your ex steadfastly refuses to follow the divorce agreement, and if you can’t work it out any other way, your situation may require legal action. In Washington, one option is to file an order to show cause. This is when one party requests that the court demand an explanation from the other, to “show cause” for the behavior.
For non-custodial parents, one frequent problem is the custodial parent interfering with court-awarded visitation. The parent “forgets” to drop the kids off as arranged. Or scheduling conflicts remarkably come up every time there’s parenting time scheduled. In this case, at a show cause hearing, each parent would have the opportunity to state their case.
The non-custodial parent can ask the court to order the other to abide by the parenting plan, change the visitation schedule, or even transfer custody. On the other hand, the custodial parent must explain why the court order was disobeyed.
Whatever the scenario, the object of an order to show cause is to get a person who isn’t complying with a divorce agreement to toe the line. This can result in a number of actions. For example, the court can order a change of parenting plan or alter the custody situation. If this behavior continues, however, repeatedly violating a divorce ruling may result in contempt charges.
The definition of contempt is the willful and intentional disobedience of a court order. Failing to follow a divorce agreement falls under this umbrella. If your ex interferes with parenting time, doesn’t pay child support or spousal support, or refuses to hand over assets the court awards you, all of those may constitute contempt. Filing a motion for contempt essentially requests that the court compel your ex to stick to the deal in the future.
Filing a motion for contempt is a pretty serious step and it’s not always the right tool for the job. Don’t just whip it out if a spousal support payment is a bit late once or twice. It’s more appropriate for more extreme situations, like if your ex hasn’t paid child support in months.
Contempt carries serious potential consequences. The court can order counseling, award attorney’s fees, and in serious circumstances, hand down jail time.
Modification Of A Divorce Agreement
Instead of following the show cause or contempt path, another option is to modify the existing divorce agreement. Modification usually takes time and effort, but it might provide long-term benefits.
Back to the example where the custodial parent interferes with or denies your visitation. In this instance, if this is a larger, prolonged pattern, the original order doesn’t work. You can petition the court to award you custody. As the courts don’t necessarily like to alter divorce settlements, this may be a long process. It can involve discovery, hearings, and even a trial depending on the case. If you opt to go this route, be ready for the long haul.
Call An Attorney
As with most legal matters, trying to enforce a divorce agreement with an uncooperative ex can get complicated. If the two of you can work it out on your own, outside of court, that’s fantastic. If you can’t, it may be in your best interest to hire an attorney.
An experienced lawyer can offer advice and guide you in the right direction. In some cases, if your ex continually violates the divorce agreement, just the threat of legal action may be enough to right the ship.
If you have questions about your divorce agreement, feel free to contact Goldberg Jones at our Seattle office.