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What happens if your ex refuses to obey the divorce decree?

After months of wrangling, debating and perhaps litigating between you and your spouse, a judge signed a decree formally granting your divorce. If your spouse was less than cooperative during the process, you may have felt a great sense of relief to have the official stamp of the court. Now, you can move forward confident that the important issues are resolved.

On paper, it all seems perfect. You may have a schedule for custody arrangements or other specific behaviors your divorce order permits or forbids. If both of you follow your orders, things should go as smoothly as possible for your families in the months and maybe years following your divorce. What you may not expect is that your spouse may not play by the rules.

Defying a court order

Just as with any court order, you and your spouse are bound by law to follow it unless the court approves a modification. Because of the sensitive nature of divorce and the control one spouse may try to exercise over the other, California family courts create decrees that are in the best interests of all involved. This is not always possible since a judge will not know your family personally, but your attorney likely worked to ensure the language in the decree was as favorable to you as possible.

Typically, a divorce decree includes rulings about these issues:

  • Child custody
  • Child support and visitation
  • Spousal support
  • Property division
  • Debt division

If your spouse refuses to abide by the rulings related to these areas in your divorce decree, you can file a motion to have him or her held in contempt of court.

Proving your case

Because you will carry the burden of proof that your ex-spouse violated the court order, divorce experts recommend keeping records of your interactions with your ex from the moment you suspect he or she may be determined to ignore the terms of the divorce decree. This may include a log of violations or digital communications from your spouse demonstrating his or her refusal to comply. A successful presentation of contempt charges may mean your ex-spouse will spend some time in jail.

However, a judge is more apt to allow your ex a limited chance to comply with the orders in the decree. Of course, if your former spouse can prove that jail would be a hardship – perhaps resulting in job loss or leaving his or her children without care – the court may be lenient. It is also possible that your former spouse may be unable to comply with the terms of the court order. In this case, the two of you may have to discuss modifications to your settlement.

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