This is a guest post by Jason Levoy offering a more legal perspective on a hard aspect of divorce.
When Your Ex is Non-Compliant
It wasn’t easy, but you made it. Maybe you had an attorney to help you, maybe you didn’t. Some how, some way, the day arrived where…and you were divorced.
What a day that was…bitter sweet perhaps? Usually is.
Maybe divorce was what you wanted, or needed. Maybe you didn’t want a divorce. It doesn’t matter now. It’s done. Hopefully, you are moving on to bigger and better times and have no or minimal interaction with your ex.
When you got divorced, you received a Divorce Decree or similar document that outlines the terms of your post divorce life. You have a document that outlines who gets what and when. So, what happens when one party doesn’t follow the settlement agreement and chooses not to do what they agreed to do, or what the court ordered them to do?
Sometimes Divorce Decree is not the end, but a beginning.
There are a couple ways you can handle the non-compliance by your ex of the terms of your Agreement. Depending on your circumstances, you might want to start small and progress up the ladder of remedies.
I qualify that by saying sometimes there is an emergency and you have no choice to file an emergent application with the court because you need immediate relief. But, those times are rare (or should be) and courts don’t like it when you abuse that process.
How To Deal With A Non-Compliant Ex
First, calmly point out the fact that your ex has not complied with the Agreement. At this point, there is no need to yell and scream. Act like the adult you are and bring it to his/her attention. Point out the exact provision of the Agreement and how they are not complying with it.
One of two things will happen. Either s/he will apologize and correct the situation (mistakes happen after all), or s/he will ignore you. If it’s the latter, remember that anger won’t change anything and will just inflame the situation. Instead give them time to comply and correct the behavior. Send daily “reminders” in writing, but don’t engage in name-calling or insults that can be used against you later on. What you’re doing is making a record of your good faith attempts to resolve the dispute. This is very important if you end up in court to resolve the issue.
Okay, you tried, but to no avail. Now, it’s time to take it to the next level of dispute resolution. Before you file papers in court, you will want to review your settlement agreement (or your Judgment of Divorce) to see if there is any language that dictates you have to attend mediation before going to court. A well-written settlement agreement will have some type of language that encourages the parties to try and resolve any disputes outside of court first.
Let’s say you went to mediation and it was unsuccessful. Now, it’s time to go to court. Now, every state has it’s own laws and standards as to how post judgment (after the divorce is finalized) matters are handled. For example, in New Jersey a litigant has to prove a change in circumstances from the terms of the settlement agreement in order for a court to award relief or modify the terms in any way. You can get information about the laws in Colorado by clicking HERE.
Make sure you know what the law is and what the standard is you have to prove in order to get the relief you want. Remember those notes you made of the times your ex didn’t comply and flaunted his/her refusal in your face? You will use these examples in your papers when you file with the court. The more specific you can be the better. The more you can show a court that you were the bigger person and did not engage in “tit for tat” games will only play in your favor.
Here’s a tip: don’t run to court for every moment of non-compliance with the terms of the agreement. Remember what I said about filing emergency applications with the court? In other words, choose your battles. Or, wait until a bunch of things compile and then file for all of them. A court doesn’t like frequent filers.
Now, I understand you can’t control your ex’s behavior. You can control yours. Make sure the non-compliance is substantial before you spend time and money enforcing the settlement agreement. Obviously, not paying alimony or child support is substantial. But, not giving you the antique vase within the 30 days he/she was supposed to give it you might not be. See what I mean?
The moral of this article is to choose when you go to court to enforce the settlement agreement or Judgment of Divorce carefully. Diary your steps to resolve the issue so you have concrete examples to show the mediator or Judge. Don’t lower yourself to the level of your ex…they probably want you too so they can push your buttons. If your good faith attempts to resolve the issue doesn’t work…the court is your last resort. Use it wisely.
As always, be strong, act confident and stay positive!