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What Can I Do If My Ex-Spouse Will Not Follow Court Orders?

Updated on
February 15, 2021
Article written by
Attorney Kevin O'Flaherty

In this article we will discuss What Can I Do If My Ex-Spouse Will Not Follow the Terms of Our Divorce Decree and we will answer the following questions:

  • What is the difference between a temporary and final order?
  • What does a Marital Settlement Agreement do?
  • What is an Allocation Judgment?
  • Can the terms of my Marital Settlement Agreement or Allocation Judgment be modified?
  • What if we decided to deviate from the terms of the written orders?
  • Can one person modify the terms of the orders without agreement of the other party?
  • My ex will not comply with the terms of the orders, what can I do?
  • What type of relief can I receive under a Petition for Rule to Show Cause?
  • What if my ex still refuses to follow the orders after the judge issues a contempt finding?
  • Is there any way I can make them pay for my legal fees?

Divorce proceedings can be a very long and complicated process. During the case, the Court will issue a series of orders to attempt to regulate the parties and limit the complications. When the case is concluded, the Court will enter the terms of the final agreement or judgment that the parties are bound to as a final resolution of the marriage.

What is the difference between a temporary and final order?

A temporary order is issued during the pendency of the court case. A temporary order can be freely modified by the Court upon petition by either party, change in circumstances, or a change in the information available to the Court. The temporary orders are used as bridges or stop gaps to get the parties over the issue at the time so that they can work to a final conclusion. A final order in a divorce proceeding is the Judgment of Dissolution which incorporates the Marital Settlement Agreement and the Allocation Judgment, when appropriate.

What does a Marital Settlement Agreement do?

The Marital Settlement Agreement (MSA) is the document that deals with the final division of the marital assets of the parties. The MSA deals with all the financial and property distributions for the parties. This document will outline maintenance payments, the requirements that each party has as it relates to selling or refinancing property, child support obligations, contributions to children’s costs, 401(k) distributions, and concluding the joint interest the parties may have in any types of property. When this document is finalized and entered, the parties will have a full plan or explanation on how all non-children related issues are concluded between the parties.

What is an Allocation Judgment?

The Allocation Judgment (AJ) is the final arrangement between the parties related to the care and responsibility of the parties’ Minor Children. The AJ is used to define the parties parenting time schedules with the Minor Children and the decision-making responsibilities. This is the document that protects a parent’s rights to their Minor Children after the divorce is finalized.

Can the terms of my Marital Settlement Agreement or Allocation Judgment be modified?

The terms of the MSA are final as it relates to property distributions. The issues of child support and maintenance can be modified or reconsidered upon a proper petition to the Court. In order to modify these continuing financial obligations, you need to have a substantial change in circumstances to demonstrate to the Court. This needs to be a significant increase or decrease to either parties’ income, job status, or a maintenance termination event as defined in your judgment.

The terms of the Allocation Agreement can be modified to adjust the parenting time schedule or decision-making responsibility. These changes can be made by agreement or upon petition of one of the parties to the Court. If the judge is ruling on this matter after the filing of a petition, the overwhelming consideration is what is in the best interest of the child moving forward.

What if we decided to deviate from the terms of the written orders?

Deviating from either the MSA or AJ is always a risk. By agreement, the parties can choose to do things that are otherwise not stated in their judgment when related to parenting time. Modifying financial agreements should not be done outside of the Court. Even if the parties agree to reduce child support or maintenance payments that agreement may not be honored by the Court as they have ordered different payments. The MSA and the AJ are the documents that the Court will enforce if the matter needs to go back to Court for some reason. If you choose to deviate from the final judgments, be sure to have any modifications that are made in writing, define a duration of the modification, and the scope of the modification. Even with the agreement in writing, the Court may still choose to enforce the orders as they entered them. If you are choosing to alter the terms of your agreement, it is best to petition the Court and enter the new arrangement by agreed order.

Can one person modify the terms of the orders without agreement of the other party?

No. Neither party has the authority to modify any court orders. If the parties are not in agreement with the order for some reason or if they can no longer comply with the terms, it a requirement of the party to file a petition with the Court and request whatever relief or changes they are seeking.

My ex will not comply with the terms of the orders, what can I do?

If one of the parties will not follow the terms of the agreement, you have the option of filing a petition to enforce the judgment in the Court. The appropriate petition in this type of scenario is called a Petition for Rule to Show Cause. It is a pleading which requests that the Court enforce the terms of your final judgment (or temporary orders) as they are written.

What type of relief can I receive under a Petition for Rule to Show Cause?

A Petition for Rule to Show Cause is a pleading that requests the Judge enforce the judgments or orders as they are written. The relief provided can be varied based on the violations that have taken place in each instance. The request for relief on this type of petition is for the other party to come into compliance with the judgment. The Judge will generally issue an order called a Rule to Show Cause that requires the other party to come into compliance with the judgment within a set time frame.

What if my ex still refuses to follow the orders after the judge issues a Rule to Show Cause?

If your ex still fails to come into compliance with the Rule to Show Cause the Judge can issue a finding of contempt. The contempt finding is a serious issue. This is a formal finding that you are in violation of the Court’s orders. The Judge has a range of options at this point, which include sending the contemptuous party to jail for up to 30 days or until the contempt is resolved. Once the contempt finding has been issued, the party in contempt must follow any and all arrangements the Judge proscribes or they will be subject to significant additional penalties.

Is there any way I can make them pay for my legal fees?

If you have to file a Petition for Rule to Show Cause to enforce the Judgments that were entered in your case, you may be able to have your legal fees shifted to the party in violation of the order. If the Court issues a finding of contempt, they are also allowed to issue an order for that party to contribute to any legal fees related to gaining that finding contempt. An additional pleading needs to be filed to seek the fees accrued but upon filing and hearing of the petition, legal fees will generally be awarded if they are in connection with a finding of contempt. 


What Can I Do If My Ex-Spouse Will Not Follow Court Orders?
Author

Attorney Kevin O'Flaherty

Kevin O’Flaherty is a graduate of the University of Iowa and Chicago-Kent College of Law. He has experience in litigation, estate planning, bankruptcy, real estate, and comprehensive business representation.

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