When a divorce is finalized, the judge signs a decree of divorce which sets forth the obligations of the parties. If the parties entered into a settlement agreement, it is incorporated into and becomes a part of the divorce decree. A divorce decree is an order of the court. This means that the court in which the divorce decree was entered or any other court of competent jurisdiction has the authority to punish either party for failing to adhere to the provisions of the divorce decree.
Generally, a party may seek enforcement of a divorce decree by filing a Motion for Contempt. Most commonly, Motions for Contempt are filed in relation to:
- Non-payment of child support;
- Failure to pay medical bills, credit card bills, or other debts;
- Failure to maintain health or life insurance;
- Violations of visitation provisions; and
- Failure to turn over property.
It’s advisable to send the offending party a certified letter demanding compliance with the divorce decree by a certain date. This is especially useful in cases involving the failure to pay child support, medical bills and other debts, and the failure to maintain health or life insurance.
If the offending party does not cure the violation, the next step is to file a Motion for Contempt. The motion must set forth the specific provisions of the divorce decree which have been violated as well as the acts or omissions which constitute the violation. In the case of child support, medical bills, credit card bills, and other debts, the motion should also set forth the total amount due on those obligations.
The Motion for Contempt must be served on the offending party. In most jurisdictions, personal service is required; serving the attorney for the offending party is not acceptable. After the offending party has been served, the matter will be set for hearing.
If a party is found to be in violation of the divorce decree, courts have the authority to place the offending party in jail until the contempt of court has been cured. Courts may also order the offending party to pay the attorney’s fees and courts costs incurred by the petitioner in filing the contempt action.
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