Divorce orders are structured around the needs and abilities of both spouses at the time of divorce. They’re not necessarily supposed to be easy to uphold, but they are meant to be doable. Hence, if yours suddenly isn’t working for you, then it’s important to address the underlying issues as soon as possible.
In some cases, a simple modification will help alleviate the burden of an unworkable order. In others, enforcement measures may be necessary. Which one is needed in your situation will depend entirely on the underlying cause.
Here’s what you need to know about modifications and enforcements in Texas, and how Neal Ashmore can help you figure out which one’s right for you.
If there’s one universal truth everyone can agree on, it’s that life doesn’t go as planned. Whether it’s the unexpected loss of a job, an illness, death, a surprise pregnancy, or a well-laid plan that just doesn’t go right, life rarely happens the way we think it will.
Luckily lawmakers understand these issues—after all, they’re human too—which is why they’ve prepared a way for you to modify your divorce order (or parenting plan), if things stop running like clockwork.
Not every hitch and hiccup will earn the court’s attention, but some circumstances definitely do, such as:
- Your ex gets remarried;
- Your ex gets a significant pay increase;
- You suffer a job loss;
- Your spouse takes a demanding new job, and can no longer spend as much time with the children;
- Your children are older, and your current custody order no longer meets their needs;
- You need more flexibility in your parenting plan;
- You have a new baby with another partner;
- You discover previously undisclosed property; or,
- Your spouse has failed to make full and timely support or alimony payments.
This list isn’t exhaustive, but as you can see, the types of issues that merit modifications and enforcements aren’t just a bad case of the Monday blues. Instead, issues must present a significant problem or conflicting obligation to your current divorce order.
How Can I Modify an Agreement?
A lot of times, conflicts and concerns can be solved through modification. A modification is a legal change to a current court order, and is only enforceable if done under the authorization of a judge.
In Texas, all or part of your order can be modified, if:
- Both individuals come to a mutual agreement about the alterations; or,
- There has been a “material and substantial change” in circumstances, which merits a change.
For cases involving children, a judge must also determine that the change is in the child’s best interest.
Remember, even if you and your ex agree on the proposed alterations, you’ll still need judicial authorization before your new agreement is enforceable. Until then, don’t forget to uphold the terms of the old order—you don’t want to be found in contempt.
What Modifications Can I Make?
At Neal Ashmore, some of the most common modification we’re asked to make deal with:
- Modification to custody orders and/or visitation schedules;
- Changes to child support;
- Alterations to halt or revise spousal maintenance; and,
- Geographic restrictions to a custodial parent.
One thing we can’t stress enough, is that divorce orders aren’t optional. Think of it as a set of laws that have been created specifically for you. And—just like you can’t simply disregard a traffic law because you don’t feel like that day—neither can you shrug off terms of your divorce order.
This is true, even if you don’t like the outcome or the arrangement isn’t working for you. It’s true even if you and your spouse agree on the changes, but haven’t had the chance to finalize it in court, yet.
Compliance with judicially appointed court orders are mandatory until a judge says otherwise. This is why it’s so important to notify your attorney immediately if something happens that affects your ability to meet your obligations.
What Should I Do if My Spouse Doesn’t Comply with Our Order?
Whether your ex isn’t dropping your child off at the prearranged time and place, or they’re late on support payments, dealing with a noncompliant ex is stressful. However, the court can—and will—take measures to enforce your order (it may just cost a headache or two).
To remedy the problems of a noncompliant ex, start by taking the following steps:
- Figure out the specific provisions of your order your ex is violating;
- Talk to them about the problem;
- Document the noncompliance; and finally,
- Talk to your family law attorney about whether you should file a Motion to Enforce or Motion for Contempt.
Both a Motion to Enforce and a Motion for Contempt are used to force compliance from a noncompliant spouse. Which one you need to file will come down to the type of offense in your situation.
Motion to Enforce
A Motion to Enforce is typically the appropriate response for a spouse that refuses to comply with parts of your order that revolve around marital property, debt, or other assets. It cannot be used to modify the terms of a decree, only enforce.
According to the Texas Family Code, there is a two-year statute of limitations on any offenses you want to enforce. This means that if you wait longer than two years to bring a motion, you’ll likely be out of luck.
If a judge upholds your motion, they will likely appoint a babysitter (such as a bank or brokerage house) to ensure your ex complies with your order. They may also award you damages. Those that still refuse to comply with a Motion to Enforce could be held in contempt of court.
Motion for Contempt
Unlike enforcement, a Motion for Contempt carries a little more weight. This action is usually reserved for individuals who:
- Fail to make child support payments;
- Fail to make alimony payments;
- Do not comply with custody and visitation arrangements; or,
- Willfully refuse to comply with a court order, including a Motion to Enforce.
Contempt is a serious criminal charge which—if upheld—can result in fines, back payment, and even jail time, so it’s not something you want to mess around with.
Keep in mind that whether filing a Motion to Enforce, or a Motion for Contempt, each will require you pay a filing fee with your county clerk. We know, we know—it’s obnoxious, having to pay extra money to enforce an agreement that your ex should already be keeping. Hang tight, though. If a judge upholds your enforcement, it’s likely you’ll be able to recoup all attorney’s fees and costs.
Modification and Enforcement Attorneys in Texas
No one wants to go back to the trenches after their divorce has been finalized. But whether it’s to modify an agreement that no longer meets your needs, or because your ex refuses to play ball, sometimes heading back to court is the only option.
At Neal Ashmore, we understand that these things are sometimes unavoidable, and want to help. For more questions about modifications and enforcements in Texas, call us at (972) 436-8000, or schedule a consultation online, and let us take care of all your post-divorce needs.