Can I Sue My Ex-wife for Breaking the Divorce Decree?

By Heather Frances J.D.

Divorce decrees often contain details about property division, child custody, child support payments and alimony, but ex-spouses don’t always fully comply with the terms of the decree. Since a divorce decree is a court order, your ex-spouse may be guilty of contempt of court if she violates it. Therefore, you can go to court and ask for help with its enforcement.

Divorce Decree

The terms of a divorce decree are binding on both spouses, whether a judge orders the terms of the decree after a trial or the spouses agreed to the terms in a settlement agreement. Your decree may contain terms that require immediate compliance – such as turning over possession of a vehicle – and terms that require continual compliance – such as child support, alimony or custody arrangements.

Enforcing the Decree

Divorce is governed by state law, so if you want to sue your ex-spouse for not complying with your divorce decree, you must use state court procedures for alleging contempt of court. Contempt of court usually means that your ex-spouse knew about the court order but willingly failed to comply. Typically, you would file this action in the court that issued the divorce decree since it’s that court whose orders are being violated. You may have to file a motion with the court, serve your ex-spouse with that motion and appear at a court hearing.

Divorce is never easy, but we can help. Learn More


At the hearing, the judge may find your ex-spouse in contempt of court if you can show she violated the divorce decree. Penalties for contempt of court can include jail time, but depending on the type of violation, other penalties are often available, including seizing tax returns and denying or seizing passports, professional licenses and driver's licenses.


Your ex-spouse can’t simply ignore terms of the decree with which she disagrees. 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 your divorce decree establishes a child support amount but you or your ex-spouse have since received a significant raise in wages, the court may adjust the amount of the child support order.

Divorce is never easy, but we can help. Learn More
Can You Go to Jail for Not Making Child Support Payments?


Related articles

How Do You Get Equitable Distribution Enforced in a Final Decree of Divorce?

During a divorce, the term "equitable distribution" refers to the division of assets and debts acquired by one or both parties during the marriage. A divorce decree or judgment will state in writing the terms of the equitable distribution and both spouses will be bound by those terms. In some circumstances, your ex-spouse may not comply with the equitable distribution terms in your divorce decree. If that occurs, you must go back to court to get a judge to remedy the situation.

How to Get a Copy of a Divorce Decree in Maryland

Although a divorce decree is a court order and is therefore technically a matter of public record, most states have tightened their procedures regarding who can actually get a copy since the events of September 11, 2001. Maryland requires that the person who is making the request for a decree have some intimate knowledge of it, such as the exact date the judge signed it. If you’re looking for a copy of your own decree and you don’t know the date, you can still get a copy, but you’ll need proof of your identity.

How to Enforce a Divorce Decree Without an Attorney

Achieving a divorce decree you can live with is sometimes just the first part of the battle. Fortunately, the law is set up to allow you to compel your ex to comply with the terms of your decree or judgment, even if he refuses. Your decree is an enforceable court order, so if you reach out to the court, justice will almost invariably be done. It might take some time and effort, however.

Get Divorced Online

Related articles

How to Enforce a Breach of Contract in a Divorce

In the process of getting your divorce, you and your ex-spouse may have made an agreement – sometimes called a marital ...

Changing Divorce Decrees in Minnesota

A Minnesota divorce becomes final when the divorce decree is signed by a judge, entered into the court record and 60 ...

How to File a Motion to Enforce Child Support in Texas

Your divorce decree probably included provisions for child support payments and custody, but if your ex-spouse doesn’t ...

How to Enforce Divorce Judgments in Illinois

Your divorce decree governs many issues between you and your ex-spouse including child custody, child support, spousal ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED