If you have gone through the process of having your divorce and custody orders finalized, it can be extremely frustrating if your ex chooses not to comply with the terms that the court ordered or approved. It can be confusing and stressful to find yourself in this situation. Read on to find out what you should do if your ex-spouse is violating court terms as they apply to your divorce, child custody case, or another family law situation.
Review the Terms With Your Ex Verbally
The first thing you should do is to talk to your ex if it is feasible. If you have left an abusive relationship or if your ex is telling you outright that he or she is violating the court terms, this might not be a feasible option. If, however, there is any chance that your ex is unaware that his or her actions are, in fact, against the court order, a calm conversation might be the best way to settle the situation.
Simply pick up the phone or wait until you see your ex, and let him or her know that the court ordered one particular action, but he or she is doing some other action instead. Try to stay calm and don’t be accusatory. You can use sentences that begin with “I” rather than those that begin with “you” to keep the focus on the topic at hand and not on how you or your ex feels about the terms. This might be enough to get things back on track.
Ask for Compliance in Writing
The next step (or the first step if a verbal discussion is not feasible in your case) is to present your ex with a written request that he or she adheres to the court order. You should send it as a letter sent in the mail (with return receipt). Don’t simply send a text or an email, a letter is usually taken a bit more seriously and you will have that receipt indicating that it has been delivered. Spell out the terms that the court has in place and then mention the instances where your ex has defied those terms.
If you send the letter by mail, keep a copy for your records. Also, keep the postcard that comes back from the return receipt. File these in case you need them due to continued noncompliance.
Document the Violations
If you have gotten to this step, you will already have some record of how your ex has violated the court order as well as proof that he or she has been confronted about the violation(s). Now, you should take some time to further document the violations as they continue. Write down when they occur and exactly what happened.
You can file this information with the letter you sent and the postcard you had returned to you. It will be important if you end up in court over this matter.
You will need to look at your court documents carefully. Sometimes, there is a list of conditions that must be met in order for some violation to qualify as contempt of court. For example, you might need to notify your ex in writing that they are violating a court order (which you have already done) and you might need to go to mediation.
Mediation is a process where both parties meet with a neutral third party to discuss what has been happening and what is an appropriate resolution. The resolution you are looking for is, of course, for your ex to honor the court’s order. In some cases, however, a different resolution might be sought by your ex. For example, if you are supposed to have your child delivered to you by 5:00 on Tuesday evenings but your ex works until 5:30, the resolution might be that the child is delivered to you by 6:00 or that you pick up your child from his or her childcare center.
Sometimes, these types of arrangements can be worked out prior to this point, but if you haven’t been able to work together to come to an agreement, mediation is a step that can help you do so. In many cases, mediation will resolve the problem and help the two of you come to a compromise. Note that a mediator cannot enforce the court orders; if your ex is determined to continue violating them, you will need to go on to the next step.
File a Motion for Contempt of Court Document
If your ex is still not meeting his or her obligations as spelled out in the court orders, the time might be right to go back to court. You can go to your county clerk’s office to request information on how to file a Motion for Contempt. This document will alert your ex that there is going to be a hearing on a certain date for a judge to hear your case.
The goal of a charge of Contempt of Court is generally to get the situation resolved and not meant as a punishment. Depending on the issue, the judge can, in some cases, award damages. Usually, however, the consequence is that the individual must change his or her behavior to be in line with the court terms established before. Rarely, someone will be sentenced to jail time; that is usually only for recurring violations and severe cases.
Get Legal Help
You can take all of these steps on your own. If you aren’t sure what to do at any certain point, however, you might consider getting legal help. A private attorney is one option, but they are usually very expensive. In fact, a retainer might cost many hundreds of dollars that you do not have. A legal advocacy group like National Family Solutions will charge a fraction of the cost and can meet your needs when your ex is violating the court terms. Contact us to find out if we can help you with your case.