The last thing anyone wants to do after getting divorced is head back to their attorney’s office for post-divorce services—especially if those services involve enforcing a divorce order.
Unfortunately, that’s exactly what a lot of people have to do.
On the bright side, divorce orders are not optional, so this is one lawsuit you’re likely to win. These directives are like personalized laws made just for you and your ex, and failure to comply can carry significant legal and financial consequences.
Here’s what you need to know about enforcing a divorce order in California, and what the Maples Family Law team can do to help you navigate this stressful situation.
What is a Divorce Order?
A divorce order (or “divorce decree,” as it’s sometimes referred to in California) is a legal document that formally ends your marriage, and encompasses all the terms of your divorce.
These terms are kind of like directions, which tell the individual spouses what they need to do, after divorce. Some of the edicts might include:
- How to divide marital property
- How to divide marital debt
- The duration and amount of alimony
- Legal and physical custody arrangements for minor children
- The amount and duration of child support
These terms are specifically constructed to fit each family’s unique situation, and whatever your judge includes in this order must be followed by both parties.
However, that doesn’t always mean that they are…
Enforcing a Divorce Order in California
So now you’re here. Your divorce is over, the ink on your decree is dry, and you thought things would start getting back to normal, but they aren’t. Because your ex is refusing to follow the judge’s orders.
If you are dealing with an uncooperative ex, here are five steps you need to take when enforcing your California divorce order.
1. Make Sure You’re Squeaky Clean
First and foremost, do not open that “motion to enforce” can of worms until you’re absolutely sure you’re all caught up on compliance, yourself. Heading back to court any time before that is too risky because your judge certainly won’t be wearing blinders in that hearing.
Once you file a motion to enforce, the court has the liberty of reviewing all the terms of your divorce order—not just the ones you want to complain about. Which means they’ll be reviewing the things you may or may not be lax on, yourself.
Don’t give your judge the opportunity to find something wrong with you, too. Before doing anything—especially going to court—be sure that you’re 100% compliant with your own responsibilities. Otherwise, things could backfire.
2. Figure Out Exactly What They Aren’t Doing
While making sure your own compliance is up to snuff, be sure to take a look at your divorce order, and identify the specific terms that your ex is not complying with.
Whether they’re late on child support, have failed to vacate the house, or aren’t following through on specific custody or visitation arrangements. Whatever it is, be specific. Know the exact terms and the precise violation.
This attention to detail will help you document the problem more accurately. In turn, having specific, targeted evidence will help you negotiate succinctly with your spouse, and strengthen your arguments, if you do end up going to court.
3. Gather (Specific) Evidence
Now that you know the exact violations, you can start gathering specific evidence to support your complaints. If they aren’t keeping up with visitation schedules, then keep a journal of dates and times when things went wrong, as well as the conversations you’ve had to try and remedy the issue.
Whatever the infraction, strong evidence will help you meet your burden of proof as the injured party, if you end up having to litigate.
4. Talk to Your Spouse
Hopefully, you’ve been doing this step the whole time, but if you haven’t yet, we recommend trying to work things out with your ex, before heading back to a judge.
As you already know, attorney’s fees don’t come cheap. While an injured party is often able to recover these expenses, it’s not necessarily a guarantee, and it’s always easier to just not have to in the first place.
Sometimes individuals are capable of working things out on their own. Other times, the structure of mediation is more effective. Either way, it’s almost always better to exhaust your “out of court” options before trying anything else.
5. File a Motion for Contempt of Court
If negotiations fail, then the only option you have left is to file a “motion for contempt” with the court.
Contempt essentially means that someone has either intentionally (or negligently) failed to follow direct orders from a judge. When filed, this motion should highlight the specific areas of the complaint that were violated, and list the reasons why contempt is the appropriate charge.
After you file this motion, your ex will have the opportunity to respond, and then both of you will be assigned a hearing date. At that time, you’ll be able to present all of that carefully gathered evidence you acquired in Step 3.
Contempt is a serious criminal charge, which can result in steep legal fines and even jail time. If your ex is not complying with your divorce order, talk to your family law attorney about whether or not this motion is appropriate for your situation.
Attorneys Who Can Enforce a Divorce Order in California
Going to court was stressful the first time around, and the last thing you want to do is head back there again. Unfortunately, sometimes that’s the only way to get an ex to cooperate, which is why you need an experienced family law attorney on your side.
If you have more questions about enforcing a divorce order in California, and whether legal action might be necessary in your situation, we want to hear from you. Call the Maples team at (209) 989-4425, or get in touch online, and let us help ensure your rights are being protected.