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Enforcing a Divorce Decree

Enforcing a divorce decree when the (ex) spouse does not abide by the court’s ruling?

Man and Woman Fight over a House

The divorce judgment, made by the court, and also referred to as the divorce decree, is a legal court order and must be followed by all parties involved. Unfortunately for whatever reasons, these orders are not always as strictly adhered to as one of the parties would like. In fact, some are ignored altogether.

Common divorce decree violations include:

  • Failing to pay debts as ordered
  • Failure to make all attempts to sell a shared asset such as a home
  • Failure to properly divided assets ordered to be shared such as retirement plans.

Enforcement will depend largely on the situation. The very step to take is to petition the court to hold the misbehaving spouse in contempt of court for failure to comply.

Steps to Remedy Failure to Pay Debts

Step #1. Contempt of court

Often the court will designate the responsible party for payment of debts. In the case the named party neglects this obligation, the first step is to file a motion or an order to show the court cause for contempt.

Of course since this is a legal proceeding contempt of court is another legal proceeding. The judge will hold a hearing to find the reasons behind the delinquency, and often grant another opportunity for the offending party to make things right. If, after provided with an additional opportunity to pay the debts, the judge may order jail time. (Of course this won’t necessarily get the debts paid!)

Step #2. Property Seizure

If, as mentioned above the offending party would rather sit in jail rather than pay the debts, the judge may order seizure of property to pay the debts.

In this case your attorney will request the court to issues a writ of attachment to allow property owned by the violating party to be seized, held by a third party, sold and debts paid from the proceedings.
To ensure support from the court, be sure to do everything possible to convince the offending party to comply with the order. Keep copies of all letters, emails or any other documentation (including letters you’re your lawyer) to show the court that the action you are requesting is only because you have exhausted all your efforts.

Remedying a Failure to List the Family Home for Sale

If a former spouse is not cooperating with a decree to list and sell a shared home, much of the process remains the same. The court wants be the last step to solve the issue so be diligent in documenting efforts to convince the offending party to adhere to the court order.

If the court has to be included in the process, most likely the order will be to appoint an agent or receiver to list, sell, and distribute proceeds of the home.

Your documentation to the court can also be used to request the offending party to pay for all costs including legal, court and enforcement fees.

Remedying a Failure of Division of Retirement Accounts

A problem with retirement accounts are that they can spent by the time the court order comes through if not properly protected.

An experienced lawyer will ensure that a Qualified Domestic Relations Order is prepared and served on the retirement plan administrator at the time of the divorce.

The legal order places the plan administrator on notice of how the court intended the retirement shares to be distributed. In so doing, the court has somewhat protected the assets from being quickly withdrawn and spent before the court orders are issued.

Is there any doubt that the need for an experienced, professional attorney is crucial to a successfully negotiated separation? Call Don Harris for that expertise!

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