Complaints After the Divorce
Child Support, Custody, Visitation Are Most Common Violations of Divorce Orders
The most common violations of divorce orders usually involve child support, custody and visitation terms. But breaches of court rulings can include any aspect of a divorce agreement, from property division to spousal maintenance.
If your ex-spouse is delinquent with support payments or other mandated actions, in most jurisdictions your first step is to file a petition or motion to enforce the court’s order. In addition to requesting that your ex comply with the order’s terms, you can request that your former spouse also pay costs of filing the motion.
At a hearing on the motion, the judge evaluates the evidence and determines whether your ex-spouse has or has not been following the order. If the court finds the ex-spouse is in willful disobedience of a court order, that is, the individual has the ability or means to follow the order but refuses, the nonpayer could be found in contempt. In extreme cases, a contempt finding could result in jail time.
Then divorce court orders are violated, rather than placing the offending party behind bars, most courts take less drastic action. The primary goal, especially in support instances, is to get the offender to make the payments.
So as to effectively enforce divorce court orders, it is critical that each directive be clear, specific and unambiguous. That way all involved will know what is expected. When any of the expectations are not met, the order’s directives can be cited.
In child support cases, the order should specify the amount of support, when the payments start, when they are to be made (regular date), the party to be paid, how payment is to be made. Also, if there is an ending date for the support payments, that should be clearly stated, too, e.g., the specific date or when a certain event, such as the child’s attainment of a certain age or emancipation, is reached.
With regard to visitation, the court order must clearly state both the starting and ending date of visitation period. The order also should note which parent is the custodial parent and that he or she ensure the child or children are available to the noncustodial parent at the beginning of the visitation period. Similarly, the order should make it clear that the noncustodial parent is to return the child or children at the end of the visitation period. To avoid misunderstandings, the order should, when possible, also specify the place and time of the visitation exchanges.
As for spousal support, the court order should clearly state the amount of alimony, as well as other obligations the parties are ordered to pay. As with child support, the court order should delineate the party to be paid, period of payment, and when such payments will end.
Thus it is an important criterion for the court order to be clear, specific, and unambiguous, so that the parties will know exactly which part of the order is violated, to file an enforcement complaint.
In the case of child support issues, neither party can take unilateral action. Most states treat visitation and child support as separate issues. Child support is viewed a right of the child and visitation is seen as a right of the parent. Even when the noncustodial parent fails to pay court-ordered child support, most states do not view that as grounds for the custodial parent to restrict the noncustodial parent’s visitation rights. Conversely, if a noncustodial parent is denied access to his or her children by the custodial parent, that is no basis for the noncustodial parent to stop paying child support.
As for visitation matters, enactment of the Visitation Rights Enforcement Act of 1998, has helped ease enforcement issues that cross state lines. This federal law underscores that the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the U.S. Constitution requires each state to recognize other states’ child visitation orders. The law applies to both temporary and permanent visitation orders, as well as the rights of both custodial and noncustodial parents. Violations of visitation orders are criminal offenses in some states and local law officers will assist in enforcing a visitation order.
Think about potential collection problems before your divorce decree is signed. If your ex-spouse was a poor money manager and had trouble paying bills while you were married, such post-divorce behavior shouldn’t be a surprise. If eventual enforcement actions are required, expedite the process by being prepared. Have on hand the following information about your ex-spouse:
- Full name
- Social Security number
- Birth date
- Home and work addresses
- Home, work and cell phone numbers
- Vehicle information, including VIN, tags and title data
- A recent photograph of your ex-spouse also could be useful.
You also will need copies, preferably certified, of the divorce decree and support orders. Pulling together this information may take time, but a little extra preparation now will help prevent more serious problems later.