Once the court has delivered a judgment and the final divorce decree has been signed, both parties are bound to follow all conditions set out in that decree. If either party later decides that any provision in the decree is unacceptable, that person must petition the court for modification. Simply ignoring the disagreeable conditions is not an option, as it puts the violator in contempt of court.
Violations are often a result of feelings of anger or betrayal on the part of the violator, and may be an attempt to control or punish the ex-spouse. Common violations include:
- Non-payment of child support
- Non-compliance with visitation schedule: this can involve the custodial parent refusing visitation to the non-custodial parent, or the failure of the non-custodial parent to return a child home on schedule
- Non-payment of alimony
If your ex-spouse has violated any portion of your final divorce decree, you may file a contempt of court motion, either through your attorney or on your own. If you file yourself, it is your responsibility to ensure that your ex-spouse has been served with the motion and receives notice of the date and time of the hearing.
Even if you choose to handle the contempt action yourself, you should at least consult with a lawyer to be sure you do it right. In addition, you can find sample motions and the exact filing procedures in your local court's family law guidelines regarding divorce.
Filing the Contempt Motion
In your contempt of court motion, you must indicate exactly what part of the divorce decree your ex violated and how. Provide a complete account of the violation. It is up to you to prove the violation, so make sure you have a strong case. Get any supporting paperwork in order before going to court, and subpoena any witnesses that can support your claims. The court office can help you with subpoenas.
Try to keep your children out of the court proceedings. Not only is it stressful for them to have to speak against one parent in public, but courts do not like to ask them to do so.
The Court's Decision
After hearing all the evidence and arguments from both sides, the judge will determine if your claim is sufficient to hold your ex in contempt of court. If the judgment is in your favor, the judge will issue a written order detailing the contempt order and how it can be resolved. Usually your ex will then have an opportunity to fix the issue, either immediately or within a specified time period. If your ex does not comply, the judge may order jail time until the matter is resolved.
Even if your ex does not comply within the specified time, it may not result in jail time. For example, if a failure to pay child support or alimony is due to job loss, the judge may feel jail time is not warranted, especially if your ex is actively looking for another job. After all, it is difficult to find work from jail.
The goal of a contempt of court motion is not to punish or humiliate your ex-spouse, no matter how much you may want that. The goal is to ensure your ex makes right previous violations of your divorce decree and also understands that you will not tolerate any further violations.