I remember being quite satisfied with my final divorce settlement agreement. I felt I had been fair and was certain we had agreed on terms that we both could live up to. I was discussing the agreement with an older neighbor when he said to me, “that agreement is nothing but a promise on a piece of paper.”
In other words, if someone chooses to defy the court ordered agreement, the agreement means little to nothing. This is why it is important to understand the right steps to take to enforce a divorce settlement agreement.
I found out the hard way that divorce settlement agreements are made to be broken, or so my ex-husband thought. I also learned the hard way what steps one has to take to enforce the agreement and make sure that, in the long-run, there is some meaning behind it.
Divorce settlement agreements can be fairly basic. They can cover child support, visitation, and payment of marital debt or, they can cover everything from the right of first refusal to the custody of the family pet.
In other words, when it comes to these agreements there can be a few things that are defiable, or there can be quite a few things that are defiable. If you get lucky you will never have to turn to the family court system to enforce your divorce settlement agreement. If you don’t get lucky this article outlines the steps you will need to take to enforce the said agreement.
Here’s how to enforce a divorce settlement agreement.
Defiance of Support Orders:
If your ex isn’t complying with court-ordered child support or spousal support you will need to hire a divorce attorney to file a petition for contempt. Once this is done a judge can “compel” your ex to pay by garnishing their wages or sending them to jail until they agree to make regular payments.
In some states, you can report non-payment of child support to your local child support enforcement office. There are steps this office can take to collect child support on your behalf. If your state offers this service it will save you the money associated with having to use the courts to enforce the child support order.
Defiance of Visitation Order:
Just as with child support or spousal support, if your ex is refusing or interfering with visitation with your children you will need to hire a divorce attorney and file a petition for contempt of the divorce settlement agreement.
Interference of visitation can be hard to prove. And it’s common. Just look up Parental Alienation! It is important that you keep records of every scheduled visitation you missed and how your ex obstructed your ability to see your child. These cases normally end up in court and you want to be able to prove your case. Documentation is a valuable asset in doing that.
Defiance of Marital Debt Payment:
This issue is tricky! I encourage clients to pay off marital debt or remove their name from marital debt they don’t want to be responsible for before a divorce is filed. If that is not possible, a judge will order one spouse or both to pay off certain debts once the divorce is final.
What happens if your spouse refuses to pay a debt that is in both your names? Your credit score is negatively affected and you have no recourse with the financial institution because they do not recognize a divorce court order.
This is something that most divorce attorneys fail to make their clients aware of. Please take this seriously. If your ex is ordered to pay a debt that is in both your names and doesn’t, the financial institution will come after you to collect the debt.
If you find yourself faced with this situation you will need to hire an attorney, take your ex to court, and get a judgment against him/her for the amount owed to the credit company. If your ex fails to pay child or spousal support he/she can be held in contempt and even thrown into jail. When it comes to paying debts, though, a judge can’t throw someone in jail for failure to do what they were ordered to do. Debtor’s prisons are a thing of the past, darn it!
You will have to get a judgment which will enable you to put a lien against any property your ex owns and that is no guarantee of ever seeing the money.
That is why I emphasize the importance of entering into the divorce process with as little marital debt as possible. Your best bet is to protect yourself BEFORE anyone is given the opportunity to ruin your credit score, or before you are forced to take the steps to enforce a divorce settlement agreement.