What Happens If You Don't Follow Divorce Paper Orders?

By Larissa Bodniowycz, J.D.

What Happens If You Don't Follow Divorce Paper Orders?

By Larissa Bodniowycz, J.D.

In a divorce case, the judge makes decisions about the case such as how property is divided, the visitation schedule for any children, and whether one spouse must pay spousal support or child support. The documents containing these decisions may have different names such as order, judgment, or decree but regardless of name, they are all legally binding, meaning you must follow them.

People reading documents behind a gavel

If you don't follow a judge's orders, you could be subject to serious consequences. If you cannot follow the orders, you might be able to get out of them by requesting a change.

Consequences of Not Following Orders

The severity of consequences you could face for failure to comply with a divorce order ranges from a second order to take the required action to jail time. Judges usually have discretion to decide what type of consequence is appropriate. Wage garnishment, legal fees, and jail times are common consequences. You are most likely to face severe consequences if your noncompliance with the divorce order relates to your child such as failure to pay child support.

  • Wage Garnishment. A judge can order your wages garnished if you fail to make payments required by the divorce order. Money will be taken from your pay check to put towards your past due payments before you receive it. There are legal limits on how much money can be garnished.
  • Legal Fees. If your former spouse must take you to court to get you to comply with the divorce order, you might have to reimburse them for their legal fees including what they paid their attorney and any fees they had to pay the court.
  • Jail. If you are found in contempt of court, you could receive jail time for your failure to comply with your divorce order. Contempt of court is when you intentionally disregard a court order. Judges usually try less severe consequences such as a fine or paying your former spouse's attorney's fees before giving you jail time for contempt. In addition, you could be charged with a crime for failure to pay child support and receive a separate jail sentence for the crime.

What to Do If You Cannot Follow Orders

Sometimes a situation arises where you are unable to follow the orders or there has been a change in circumstances since the order that you think warrants changing the order. Inability to pay all support due to a job loss, a job offer in another state, or the marriage of your former spouse to someone else are common examples of such situations.

If you are unable to follow orders from your divorce, or think a change is warranted, you can request modification of the order. Don't simply ignore the original order. Request a change as soon as you realize you may need one.

In deciding whether to grant a request for modification, judges consider how significant the change of circumstances. A minor change in circumstances such as a decrease in annual income of $2,000 will not justify a modification. If the requested modification relates to your child, the judge will also consider the child's best interests.

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.

Divorce is never easy, but we can help.

Learn more