Enforcing a Final Divorce Decree After a Remarriage in California

by John Stevens

Even if divorcing parties reach an amicable agreement, the divorce is final only after a court orders the termination of the marriage. Divorce decrees often include actions the parties must take even after the marriage ends such as delivering property to the ex-spouse and paying child or spousal support. However, it is quite common for one party to disregard the court’s orders. In response to this problem, California provides a number of options for enforcing divorce orders. Choosing the best option depends on the circumstances.

Earnings Assignment Order

An earnings assignment order is commonly used to enforce an order for family, child, partner or spousal support, regardless of when any earlier orders were issued. The order is directed to the ex-spouse’s employer; it orders the employer to withhold a specific amount from the ex-spouse’s paycheck to satisfy the monetary award. If the ex-spouse changes employers after the order is issued, the ex-spouse is required to notify the recipient spouse of the name and address of the new employer within 10 days after obtaining new employment. The ex-spouse can be held in contempt of court for failing to give this notice within the 10-day period.

Writ of Execution

A writ of execution is used to collect a money judgment. The writ directs a sheriff, marshal, or a registered process server to obtain satisfaction of a judgment for a judgment creditor. In this context, a writ of execution would allow the designated individual to seize your ex-spouse’s property to satisfy the divorce order. A writ of execution may be used to seize money, real or tangible property, and in some cases, to seize and sell property to satisfy the divorce order. In the divorce context, a writ of execution is commonly used to satisfy a court order for support and attorney fees.

Judgment Lien on Real Property

A judgment lien on real property is created by recording a document called an abstract of judgment with the recorder’s office in the county where the property is located. If the property is located in two or more counties, a copy of the abstract of judgment should be recorded in each county. The abstract of judgment is a lien that must be paid if your ex-spouse sells the property or wants to refinance it. When the property is sold or refinanced and the lien is paid, the proceeds from the lien are directed to you to satisfy that court order. A judgment lien is commonly used when the person who owes money has little or no income and no property, other than real estate, with any significant value. By contrast, a writ of execution is often used to seize cash or valuable personal property, such as a car.

Contempt Proceedings

California law specifically provides a court in a family law proceeding to hold a party in contempt for failing to comply with the court’s orders. A party held in contempt may be fined, required to pay attorney fees, ordered to perform community service, or imprisoned. Contempt is the most serious means of enforcing a divorce decree and may be appropriate where the other enforcement options are not available. A court must find that the ex-spouse had knowledge of the order, the order was lawful, the ex-spouse willfully disobeyed the order, and the ex-spouse had the ability to comply with the order.