There are many times throughout my practice when clients need help enforcing previous financial judgment(s) entered in their favor through, either a divorce or paternity case. In most cases, financial judgment(s)—orders from a judge or jury to pay a certain amount of monies—will be based upon child support, spousal support, or alimony, or sometimes it can even be based upon the division of marital assets. Once financial judgments are entered, it should stand to reason that the recipient of the payments will come to rely upon these monies in their day-to-day lives, so when a paying party stops paying a financial judgment, the consequences can sometimes be quite severe, for both the payer and the recipient.
The first question I usually get when a client is having trouble collecting on a judgment is what can I file in Court to hold the other party accountable and start getting my money again? The easy answer is to file:
- a Motion for Civil Contempt and Enforcement, in which you would ask the Court to find the other party in contempt of the previous Judgment or Order that directed them to pay the money, and
- an Order of Enforcement so that the Court will actively enforce the terms of the previous Court Order.
The hard part in this process, depending on the circumstances of the entire situation, including such factors as the original amounts ordered, how long the payments have not been made for, the total amount of support actually owed and the paying party’s current financial situation, may be actually collecting the monies owed in a timely fashion.
Unfortunately, in most cases, the Court will not consider these types of matters to be emergencies; therefore, going through the Court process of filing your motion to getting a hearing date may vary anywhere from 2 to 6 months, and sometimes even longer depending on the intricacies of the issues involved and the Court’s calendar.
Once you get your motion together, you will want to formally request all forms of relief available for these types of enforcement actions, including, but certainly not limited to, re-payment of all back support, with appropriate interest, continued payments as previously ordered, punitive fines as a punishment for non-payment, coercive fines to force them to start making the payments again, attorney’s fees, if applicable, and in extreme cases, even incarceration of the non-paying party. Bear in mind, the Court may not order every form of relief you request, and some forms of relief may not be appropriate in particular cases; however, it’s always advisable to provide the Court with all available options to enforce its prior Orders.
Another important consideration in determining the likely success of a Motion for Civil Contempt/Enforcement will be the other party’s current financial situation and their basis for non-payment. If the other party has legitimately fallen on hard times, such as unexpectedly or involuntarily losing their job, suffering a medical episode or condition that prevents them from working, or any other valid reason that would explain why they do not have the current ability to pay the amounts previously ordered, then it is possible the Court would not hold that person in contempt. If, however, there are insubstantial reasons for non-payment not supported by substantiated evidence or documentation, then the chances of a Court finding the non-paying party in contempt would increase significantly.
If you have questions about trying to enforce your support order, it’s important to discuss these issues with an experienced family law attorney to determine the strengths of your case and likelihood of getting your money repaid to you in a timely fashion.
Attorney Russell J. Frank is a partner at CPLS, P.A. and focuses his practice areas on family and marital law. Contact Attorney Frank today at email@example.com to discuss any family or marital legal issues you may be experiencing.