How to Enforce a Court Order

After you’ve signed divorce papers and finalized orders for child custody and child support, the last thing you want to do is go back to court. Unfortunately, life doesn’t always go as planned, because many people don’t comply with the directives in their divorce decrees and custody orders. When non-compliance occurs, taking steps for enforcing a court order in the family courts may be necessary.

If you believe your ex-spouse or the co-parent of your children is not complying with your divorce decree or custody orders, the Sisemore Law Firm in Fort Worth can help with your enforcing divorce decree concerns. We can also answer questions you may have about how to enforce a court order.

Our experienced family law attorneys have been practicing law in the Dallas / Fort Worth metroplex since 2007 and have handled thousands of family law matters and enforcements during that time.

When an enforcement order family court may be necessary

Lawsuits pertaining to enforcing a divorce decree may involve issues regarding property division, such as failure to deliver property as ordered in the divorce decree or undivided assets. A divorce enforcement action may also include issues pertaining to spousal support, child custody and child support.

Failure to take certain actions or file paperwork as ordered in a divorce decree, like transferring the title for a piece of property or not completing a QDRO (qualified domestic relations order) for a retirement account, may require a party to file a motion for enforcing a court order in the family court.

The most common types of enforcements we see in a divorce setting include:

  • A party did not pay child support they were ordered to pay.
  • A party didn’t pay debts or expenses they were ordered to pay.
  • A party did not transfer debt out of the other party’s name.
  • A party did not return personal property the other party was awarded in the order.
  • A party didn’t receive the retirement funds they were ordered to receive.
  • A party didn’t sign off on the closing documents that are necessary to effectuate the transfer over of property.

How to enforce a divorce decree

If you’re wondering how to enforce divorce decree orders, getting solid legal advice is critical. We strongly encourage you to consult with a family law attorney if you ever need help enforcing a divorce decree.

When prospective clients come to us for enforcing divorce decrees, the first thing we do is closely analyze the orders in question and determine if they are actually enforceable. Sometimes we find the client’s former attorney simply didn’t draft the orders properly. Most often, we find orders are not enforceable because the language used in the order is not as specific as the Texas Family Code requires.

It’s also important that the party seeking divorce enforcement has been holding up their end of the bargain. In other words, if you want to hold the other party accountable for non-compliance of a divorce decree or custody orders, you better be in compliance with the orders yourself.

In some situations, you may need to go to court to clarify a portion of the court order before you can file a motion to enforce a divorce decree. Once you receive proper clarification, your attorney can proceed with filing an enforcement.

Keep in mind, enforcing a court order is serious business in the Texas family courts. Not only are enforcements very serious, but they are also very specific proceedings, which are treated much like a criminal case. Just as you would have specific counts in a criminal case, your attorney needs to clearly lay out the specific provisions you are trying to enforce in your divorce decree or custody orders, as well as provide evidence that the other party has not complied with those provisions.

If you try to seek an enforcement without proper legal representation or don’t present your case in a clear, detailed and organized manner, the other party’s attorney could make a few objections, and the judge could throw out your case without a hearing.

The case would then be rendered res judicata (“a matter judged”), which means you can’t come back and try it again. An experienced family law attorney can help you get your ducks in a row, so you have a better chance of enforcing divorce decree provisions.

What to expect when enforcing a court order in family court

If you and your attorney have been unable to resolve issues regarding non-compliance of a divorce decree or child custody orders outside of court, filing for an enforcement may be your best option.

Assuming your attorney has concluded the orders are enforceable, and you have complied with the orders, your next step may be to proceed with an enforcement action. You would then need to file documents with the court with continuing jurisdiction over the divorce or SAPCR (suit affecting child parent relationship).

The goal of the enforcement action, whether it be enforcing a divorce decree or SAPCR, is to hold the other party accountable for failing to comply with a court order. During the hearing both sides will have the opportunity to present evidence and provide testimony pertaining to the case.

If a party is found to have violated a court order involving a divorce decree or SAPCR, the judge may:

  • Hold the party in contempt of court for not complying with the provisions of the divorce decree or SAPCR. (Learn more about contempt of court in divorce here.)
  • Order the party to transfer or relinquish property they withheld.
  • Order the party to pay spousal support or child support owed.
  • Order the party to comply with custody and visitation provisions.
  • Order the party to complete and file paperwork as originally ordered.
  • Impose fines and/or jail time for non-compliance.
  • Award a judgment to the party who filed for the enforcement.

Keep in mind, just because a judge orders your ex or the co-parent of your children to do something, doesn’t mean they will comply. That’s why it’s so important to have a clear picture of your marital estate and take care of issues and paperwork (QDROs, title and property transfers, debt payments, etc.) before the divorce is finalized. The more issues you can take care of during the divorce, the less likely you will need to file for an enforcement later.

Can police enforce family court orders?

This is a question we hear regularly in our Fort Worth law office. The job of the police is to keep the peace and to protect and serve. if someone violates a civil court order (like a divorce decree or SAPCR), that is considered a civil wrong. Police do not enforce or protect citizens from civil wrongs, that’s the responsibility of the courts.

If someone is breaching the peace, say they are harming or have kidnapped a child, the police can get involved because a crime has been committed. It’s not bad to involve the police if you’re in a situation where you need them, but they’re not the arbiters of fact, they’re not lawyers, and they’re not the enforcement arm of a civil order.

So, can police enforce family court orders? No, it’s not their job to enforce civil orders. If your ex is consistently late to pick up your child, it’s your job to collect evidence proving their non-compliance with your custody and visitation orders.

Have questions about how to enforce divorce decree provisions?

The experienced divorce enforcement attorneys at the Sisemore Law Firm are here to help. If you live in Dallas / Fort Worth or surrounding communities, contact our Fort Worth law firm to schedule a confidential case review. You can call our office at (817) 336-4444 or connect with us online.