Enforcing your court orders.
Throughout the divorce process there may be several temporary court orders issued with regard to child custody, child support, spousal maintenance (alimony), or palimony, parenting plan, protection orders and restraining orders. These orders are meant to last until the divorce or domestic partnership termination is complete.
Most of our enforcement issues occur after the divorce case has been completed. But, even if the court orders are temporary, they still must be followed. The question is what happens when the orders actually aren’t followed. If you put this in front of a judge, there are two separate issues that a judge will consider: enforcement of the order and intent of the party not complying with the order.
For King and Snohomish County, there are multiple ways for you to get your need for enforcement of court orders in front of the judge. You could opt for a conventional motion for enforcement or a motion for contempt, in addition to a few more unusual methods that we’ve used in the past.
When dealing with parenting plans, it usually makes more sense to file a motion for contempt of court rather than a request for enforcement of a court order. In contempt of court actions, intent of the bad party plays a huge roll in both determining what the judge will do for you and whether or not the judge will find contempt.
Parenting plans and contempt of court in King County.
Divorce cases with children contain “final orders” specific for property distribution, child support, the parenting plan, and spousal maintenance. If one party violates these final orders it is a serious matter, but it is not justification in the eyes of the court for the other party to retaliate by also violating an order. So what do you do if your ex-spouse or ex-partner is violating the parenting plan and keeping your child from you?
If you were thinking, I’m not going to pay child support, wrong answer. If you were to withhold paying child support, this places you in the exact same situation that your ex is in by violating the court order. Short answer: you don’t withhold child support, ever. Instead, you file a motion for contempt.
Here’s an example of a contempt motion at work. A client’s ex-wife systematically refused to allow our client to exercise his visitation with his daughter. The client traveled frequently and thus needed to exercise summer visitation at at once and without much notice, which fortunately for the client the parenting plan allowed him to do. However, the wife had a vindictive streak and refused to allow him to exercise visitation.
The wife got an attorney and told our client in no uncertain terms that she was going to refuse to allow visitation and that he couldn’t do anything about it. So a motion was filed for contempt against the mother, and the father won. The court found the mother had acted with malice towards the client and allowed immediate visitation for the client.
Enforcement motions aren’t the only tool.
In another case example, a husband who was siphoning money away from the marriage and spending it on his exotic Porsche collection. Asking the judge to enforce a court order did not make sense and in any event the bleeding needed to be stopped before all the money was gone. It typically takes at least two weeks to get before a judge and she didn’t have that much time.
Her money might have been all gone by then. Thus, an order was obtained, freezing all of the assets and then, later, transferring the money to an IOLTA account where the money was held in trust for our client.
If you are faced with a situation where you can not comply with a court order such as a failure to pay child support or a failure to pay maintenance, then you need to get in front of a judge as soon as you can to get your orders modified.
On the other hand, if you are dealing with a medical emergency and it puts you in technical default of an order, it is rare that any judge that will hold that against you, although your ex may gladly hold it against you. As a general rule, remember this: until a modification of the court order has been issued, you must comply with the original order.
An experienced divorce lawyer at our firm can notify the court by filing a motion for contempt. Washington family law allows the court to order sanctions to enforce compliance. The court may find the individual in contempt.
Penalties for contempt can include:
- Payment of the other party’s legal fees and court costs
- Make up time for visitation and other equitable relief
How do I get started so I can get my orders enforced?
The first thing you will need to do is setup a consultation with one of our family law attorneys. If we agree to take on your case, we will then sit down with you to go over your specific facts in question. We will ask for any statements of eye witnesses, the court orders, and any photographs and documents you may possess.
Our team will listen as you explain what is happening and write a brief to the court outlining your evidence but more importantly telling your version of the events in a narrative and story format that keeps the judge’s attention. At the point, we’ll be able to advance your interests, get your order enforcement, and help you obtain the relief you need.
Contact a Seattle divorce attorney at The Seattle Family Law Group today for assistance on enforcing court orders.