What Happens If You Don't Follow Divorce Paper Orders?

By Mary Jane Freeman
If you're unable to make your alimony or child support payments, you might be able to seek a modification.

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When you divorced your spouse, the court likely addressed your marital issues, such as property division, support and custody, in the divorce decree. If you and your ex were able to reach an agreement on your own, the court probably approved it and incorporated the terms of your agreement into the court order, making them legally enforceable. If you violate the terms of your decree, your ex can ask the court to force you to comply, which might result in the loss of assets, modified orders, contempt charges and even jail time.

Not Following a Custody Order Can Lead to the Court Changing It

Neither you nor your ex can interfere with the custody or visitation rights of the other. This means that if the court awarded your ex physical custody of your child in the divorce and gave you visitation rights, your ex must let you have your child on the dates and times outlined in the divorce decree -- and you must pick up and return your child when required as well. If you violate the custody order, especially repeatedly, your ex-spouse can call the police and force you to return the child, file contempt of court charges against you, or seek to modify the custody order altogether. If you violate other provisions concerning custody, such as not paying for insurance or extracurricular activities, or if you don't abide by the restrictions as to who can live in your home, it might also result in contempt charges or modified orders.

Not Following Property Terms Can Result in a Money Judgment

If you don't comply with the property terms of your divorce, such as not handing over certain property to your ex as ordered, she can take you back to court to enforce the order. Depending on the laws in your state, this can result in the court ordering you to give up the property and pay damages to your ex for court costs and attorney fees. The court could also hold you in contempt, which might result in fines and jail time.

Not Paying Child Support Can Result in the Seizure of Assets

If you were ordered to pay child support to your ex-spouse and fall behind or stop, either your ex-spouse or local child support enforcement agency can seek an enforcement order from the court. This can result in the withholding of a portion of your wages to pay the arrears, the garnishment of your bank accounts, the suspension of your driver, recreational and professional licenses, the revoking of your passport, the seizure of your tax refunds and a contempt charge. If you're unable to meet your support obligation, perhaps due to reduced hours at the job, you must request a modification of the order through the court or child support enforcement agency.

Seizure of Wages and Assets for Non-Payment of Alimony

If you were ordered to pay alimony, also known as spousal support or spousal maintenance, to your ex-spouse, you cannot reduce or stop your payments unless a court gives you permission to do so. This requires submitting a modification request to the court and demonstrating that your circumstances have substantially changed, such as if you had a drop in income due to a job loss or disability. If the court doesn't modify your alimony obligation and you stop paying, your ex can take you back to court. Although state laws vary, common enforcement methods include garnishment of wages, seizure of property and bank accounts, and holding you in contempt.

About the Author

Based on the West Coast, Mary Jane Freeman has been writing professionally since 1994, specializing in the topics of business and law. Freeman's work has appeared in a variety of publications, including LegalZoom, Essence, Reuters and Chicago Sun-Times. Freeman holds a Master of Science in public policy and management and Juris Doctor. Freeman is self-employed and works as a policy analyst and legal consultant.

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