How to Enforce a Divorce Decree Without an Attorney

By Cindy DeRuyter, J.D.

How to Enforce a Divorce Decree Without an Attorney

By Cindy DeRuyter, J.D.

After a divorce, it is reasonable to expect your former spouse to honor their obligations under your divorce decree. After all, the decree is a legally-enforceable court order. Unfortunately, ex-spouses sometimes fail to comply with the terms the judge ordered. If your efforts to get your ex-spouse to honor the divorce decree have failed, you have the right to seek enforcement of the divorce decree through the court. You may be able to do so without hiring an attorney by following these steps.

Gavel on a divorce decree

1. Determine which provisions of the decree your ex-spouse has violated.

The steps you follow to enforce a divorce decree depend on which provisions your spouse is not following. For example, your ex-spouse may be behind on making child support or spousal maintenance payments or they may have violated custody and parenting time orders. You may also need help enforcing the divorce decree if your ex-spouse is refusing to transfer title to real estate or other assets the judge awarded you in your divorce.

Review the divorce decree to understand your obligations and your ex-spouse's obligations and make note of those requirements your ex-spouse failed to meet. You should also make sure you are meeting your own obligations under the divorce decree.

2. Talk to your ex-spouse about their obligations.

In some cases, you may be able to enforce your divorce decree without going to court simply by reminding your ex-spouse about the divorce decree and letting them know you intend to enforce your rights if they fail to remedy the situation. Your ex-spouse probably does not want to go to court to defend their failure to meet the terms of the divorce decree any more than you want to have to take them to court. Sometimes, a simple conversation or written reminder is effective.

3. Gather documentation to support your claim of noncompliance.

If your informal efforts to get your ex-spouse to comply are ineffective, you can prepare to go to court by gathering information that supports your side of the case.

Document your ex-spouse's noncompliance. If you have written communications or financial records to support your claim, compile those records because you may need them as evidence in a court enforcement action.

4. Contact your Clerk of Courts or state's judicial self-help resource to obtain forms.

Reach out to your county Clerk of Courts to determine whether you should file a motion for civil contempt of court, a motion for enforcement, or another type of action. In some cases, your ex-spouse might be subject to criminal prosecution for their failure to honor the terms of your divorce decree.

Your county Clerk of Court's office or your state's judiciary self-help services may provide forms or templates you can use to initiate the process.

5. Complete and file a motion to enforce your divorce decree.

Complete the forms carefully, attaching all required information and documentation, and file them with the Clerk of Courts in your county. Expect to pay a filing fee when you do so. When you file a motion with the court, you are asking the judge to enforce the terms of your divorce decree.

Your ex-spouse may respond to your motion. The court will then set a date for a hearing. Attend the hearing and be prepared to answer questions from the judge.

Divorce decrees are court orders, and both parties to the divorce must comply with the terms of the decree. While it is possible to seek enforcement without hiring an attorney, a family law lawyer in your state may help make an unfamiliar process somewhat easier.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.

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