Your divorce might be finalized—and your order official—but that doesn’t always mean the headaches are over. Especially for those dealing with a stubborn ex, who may be refusing to comply with the edicts set down by your judge.
Unfortunately for these individuals, divorce orders are not optional. Texas courts aren’t messing around when they issue these terms, and failure to comply—whether willful or accidental—can result in some pretty serious consequences.
Here’s what you need to know about enforcing a divorce order in Texas, and how the North Texas Family Lawyers team can help you navigate this frustrating ordeal.
What is a Divorce Order?
Before we get into enforcement, let’s talk a little bit about what a divorce order actually is.
In Texas, a divorce order (also called a divorce “decree” or “final judgement”) is a legal document that you and your spouse receive at the end of your divorce, which contains a run-down of the details involved with ending your marriage.
This includes all of the decisions about child custody, visitation, and child support. It also dictates how real and actual property will be divided, as well as who takes what debt, and any assignments of alimony.
In other words, it is a set of directions for what you and your spouse must do, moving forward. These terms have been approved by your judge, and carry the full weight of the court—along with some fairly hefty consequences—if you don’t comply.
But of course, occasionally, that’s exactly what some people do.
Enforcing a Divorce Order
First off, let’s be real clear: the edicts in your final divorce order are not optional.
Your judge doesn’t care how much you hate your ex—or whether or not you agree with their decisions. The only thing they really care about is that you obey the order. Full stop.
When non-compliance does occur, the court’s method for addressing these issues will depend on what area of the complaint is being ignored. The three major areas of divorce that generally need help with compliance are:
- The division of marital property;
- Child custody, visitation schedules, and child support payments; and,
- The assignment of alimony.
Here’s a closer look at each of these situations.
1. Enforcing the Division of Marital Property
According to the Texas Family Code, noncompliance with a property order will require you to file a Motion to Enforce. This document essentially notifies the court of your situation, and asks for their help in enforcing the terms.
When the court receives this motion, they’ll first look at the original order, to make sure that the directives regarding marital property are clear and specific. If they aren’t, then they’ll likely issue a clarification order, and allow a reasonable amount of time for the offending party to comply.
If, however, it’s obvious that the non-compliance was intentional, the court can respond by:
- Ordering the immediate seizure and/or delivery of the property.
- Ordering a money judgement (if the subject of the dispute no longer exists).
- Ordering attorney’s fees and costs to compensate for the effort of litigating.
- Issuing a turnover order.
A turnover order requires the individual to “turn over” whatever it is that he or she is withholding. It’s usually issued in situations where the uncooperative party owns the property, and it can’t be seized through ordinary measures (for example, a house they won’t move out of).
If none of these methods work, then the court can proceed with more drastic measures.
2. Enforcing an Order of Child Custody
Noncompliance with child custody generally falls under one of two categories. Either a parent wants to enforce:
- A visitation schedule of allotted parenting time; or else,
- The full and timely payment of child support.
In Texas, all decisions regarding minor children are made according to the child’s best interest. Hence, non-compliance in either of these areas is something Texas courts take very seriously.
Often the failure to comply with visitation comes down to busy schedules, and/or a lack of proper communication. That’s why parents are encouraged to try and resolve visitation issues outside of court, before heading to the bar.
These out-of-court negotiations can be done on your own, through mediation, or with the help of a domestic relations officer.
A domestic relations officer (DRO) does not represent either party. Instead, their goal is to help each side comply with the existing order. A DRO will require good record keeping and a pattern of repeated offenses before recommending court interference.
If you do end up needing to go to court, then a judge will hear your complaint, and modify the custody order according to the child’s best interest.
In Texas, the parent/child relationship—along with its accompanying parental rights—are held in the highest regard. With those rights, however, comes a responsibility of care, and a parent who fails to pay support puts their own rights on the line.
If your child’s other parent isn’t paying support, you’ll need to file a Motion to Enforce Child Support with the court. Once received, the court can take several different actions.
- Garnish wages
- File a lien against real property or other assets
- Suspend driver’s licenses, passports, and other professional licensures
- Intercept tax refunds, lottery winnings, and other state or federal money
- File criminal charges
Keep in mind, withholding visitation is not an acceptable punishment for failure to pay child support. As the saying goes, “Two wrongs don’t make a right,” and failure to comply with court-ordered visitation will only hurt yourself—regardless of the reasons why you’re withholding it.
Unpaid child support does not go away. If there is a legitimate change in circumstance that’s prohibiting you from making full and timely payments, talk to your attorney immediately about modification.
3. Enforcing an Order of Alimony
Alimony (also called “spousal maintenance”) are payments a judge orders one spouse to make to the other, post-divorce. This money is meant to help get a dependent spouse on their feet, and is often paid to the homemaker half of the duo.
These payments are need-based, gender-neutral, and carry many of the same consequences for non-compliance, as a failure to pay child support.
Unless modified by a judge, alimony payments must be made until the dates specified in your order. The only times it might expire sooner is if the dependent spouse remarries, enters into a cohabitation relationship, or for other significant life changes (as approved by a judge).
Contempt of Court for Non-Compliance
In addition to the remedies we’ve already talked about, non-compliance with a divorce order can also result in contempt of court.
Contempt is a criminal charge levied against those who willfully (or even neglectfully) fail following a court order. This charge can result in steep fines, a black mark on your permanent record, and even jail time.
Hence, while you might not like your spouse—or the decisions listed in your final order—obeying them isn’t really an option. This decree is kind of like a set of laws created specifically for you, so it’s important to comply or else risk serious legal consequences.
If there is a legitimate reason keeping you from obeying any part of your order, talk to a family law attorney as soon as possible. In some situations, it may be possible to modify your order.
Divorce Attorneys in Texas
The last thing anyone wants to do after divorce, is head back to their attorney’s office for some post-divorce services. However, as frustrating as it can be, sometimes applying a little pressure is the only way to ensure the terms of your decree are carried out.
If you have more questions about enforcing a divorce order in Texas, we want to hear from you. Call North Texas Family Lawyers today at (972) 402-6367, or schedule a consultation online, and let us help you enforce your decree the way it was intended.