How Enforcement Issues Get Resolved
Courts have authority to enforce their own orders. An action for enforcement generally results in the court either clarifying the original order or finding the non-compliant party in contempt.
A clarification order can only resolve ambiguity in the previous order of the court that may have hindered compliance. A clarification order cannot be used as a “back door” to attack or alter the division of property established by the original decree.
When the prior order is clear but simply not followed, a contempt hearing can result in a warning, fine, jail, court costs, attorney’s fees and other relief. An example of other relief is extra visitation to make up for periods the other parent wrongfully denied.
Not Complying with Court-Ordered Enforcement of Division of Property
Generally, a suit to enforce a division of property must be brought within two years of the date the divorce decree was signed. So, don’t delay if the other spouse begins to drag his or her feet. Speak with a qualified attorney about enforcement options.
Not Complying with Court-Ordered Custody, Visitation or Child Support
The Court You File In Matters
An action to enforce an order for custody, visitation or child support must be filed in the court with “continuing, exclusive jurisdiction,” otherwise known as CEJ. Initially, CEJ will rest in the court that rendered the final divorce decree. CEJ can transfer to another court if, for example, the children have moved to a different county or State since the divorce. A qualified attorney will be able to advise you on the proper court for filing.
Denial of Custody
A legal right to custody can be enforced by filing either a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus or Motion for Enforcement with Contempt. A Writ of Habeas Corpus orders the person holding the child to appear in court with the child. At the hearing, the court will compel immediate return of the child to the rightful parent once all legal rights have been confirmed. A hearing for enforcement by contempt operates in the manner described above. It can result in a warning, fines, jail time, court costs and attorney’s fees.
Denial of Visitation
Failure to comply with court-ordered visitation can be enforced by contempt. An enforcement action for contempt must be brought not later than: (a) six months after the child becomes an adult, or (b) the right to possession terminates by operation of law (e.g. the date a 17-year old marries with parental permission).
Denial of Child Support
Courts can enforce a child support order by contempt and render a money judgment for the amount in arrears. An action for contempt must be brought not later than: (a) two year after the child becomes an adult, or (b) the obligation terminates by operation of law (e.g. the date a 17-year old marries with parental permission).
Courts can confirm the total amount of arrears and award a money judgment if an action is brought not later than 10 years after the date the child becomes an adult or the obligation terminates by operation of law (e.g. the date a 17-year old marries with parental permission).
Once Again, Time Matters
It’s worth repeating that time matters in enforcement actions. Delays can be costly. Speak with a qualified enforcement attorney at the earliest opportunity any time you believe an enforcement action may be necessary. The Cramp Law Firm stands ready to help if you need us.