It can be frustrating when your ex doesn’t follow the rules set forth in your divorce decree and parenting plan after divorce. We frequently hear clients who are upset about an ex-spouse consistently being late when picking up the kids or cancelling at the last minute. Some are a few days late on their alimony or child support payments. Some are constantly asking for schedule changes or just completely ignoring their visitation schedule altogether. All these things aren’t just annoying, they affect your plans, your finances, your current relationships and your mood.
The cold, hard fact is that you can have very specific terms put into your decree, but getting your ex to actually follow it is another matter entirely. Police won’t respond if your ex is late picking up the kids or refusing to pick them up at all. Unfortunately, these are all situations that require a lawyer, a judge, and a court proceeding.
Contempt or Nuisance?
Our advice? Pick your battles. Remember that your ex is exactly the same person as they were prior to your divorce. So if your ex was notoriously late for appointments – you can’t expect them to be on time now just because you’re divorced. You really have to decide if the expense and stress of a court battle is going to be worth it. If your ex is a few days late with child support and alimony, then it’s probably in your best interest to accept the fact that he/she is typically a little late and come to expect it. Disrespectful exes are a nuisance, but may not warrant a court battle.
Remember to communicate the issue with your ex and ask for their compliance. Send emails and text messages requesting that your ex address the issue and save all correspondence. Remember to be professional and concise in these interactions, because if it continues, a judge may see both the request and the response. If you have plans and need them to be on time for picking up this week, then let them know ahead of time so that a babysitter or pick up from Grandma’s or a neighbor’s house can be arranged ahead of time.
Remember too that transferring children back and forth between families is already stressful for them. It isn’t easy to switch from the rules and climate of one household to the next, so keeping your emotions in check during transition times is probably more important for your kids than whatever function you are going to be late for.
When to Contact an Attorney
Be aware that the parent who is not following visitation orders probably won’t get into much trouble, but the judge will more than likely modify the current order so that the parent breaking the rules will be entitled to less time with their kids. If your ex’s visitation violations are consistent and there is a pattern that is causing extreme chaos, then you should contact your attorney for a custody modification. Start by keeping an ongoing diary of the violations as well as your correspondence asking for compliance and contact your attorney for help. Sometimes a strongly-worded letter can do the trick – other times, filing a motion for contempt or a petition for modification and going to court is the only way to persuade them to respect the orders of the court.
Child Support & Alimony Violations
When a parent is significantly behind on alimony or child support, that is the time to contact an attorney. This can be considered contempt and judges tend to take it very seriously. If you don’t currently have one, a judge can issue an Income Deduction Order (IDO) so that paychecks can be garnished. Liens against tax returns and other property can be put in place and sometimes jail time can even be a result of ongoing violations. The Department of Child Support Services can work with your attorney to help ongoing management of child support payments, click HERE
to learn more.
Your ex can’t simply ignore the terms of the decree. The only way to change the terms of a divorce decree is by seeking a formal modification through the court. This would involve returning to court and showing that a substantial change in circumstances has occurred since the decree was issued. For example, if you or your ex have received significant raise or promotion, or lost a job entirely or moved to another state.
Remember too that private or verbal agreements between you and your ex can not be enforced. You must petition the court to set the terms of your agreement into an order, otherwise the court cannot intercede.