Enforcing Divorce Decrees and Attorney’s Fees

In a perfect world, all people would abide by their divorce decrees and the terms within it.  However, many people, for a variety of reasons, choose to disobey the provisions of their divorce decree.  One of the most common ways people disobey their decrees is relative to finances.  Particularly when the parties to a divorce have minor children, there are many costs paid up front by one parent, and typically reimbursable by the other party.  The terms of each individual divorce decree spells out the specifics.  It is not uncommon to see a provision that requires the paying parent to send the receipt to the non-paying parent, and then the non-paying parent must reimburse within a certain period of time.

When the reimbursing parent fails to reimburse, court action may be necessary.  The reason or defense given by the non-reimbursing parent may or may not cause the non-reimbursing parent to be liable for the other party’s attorney’s fees.  If the person has no cause for disobeying the court order, they may not be required to pay the other party’s fees.  However, if the violation of the divorce decree is found by the court to be willful and “without compelling cause or justification”, it is practically mandatory that the non-paying party will have to pay the reasonable and necessary attorney’s fees and costs of the other parent.  So, if someone doesn’t pay by the deadline, simply because they don’t want to, then they would have to pay the other party’s fees.  There are various reasons one may give for not paying that the Court would find not to be willful, but they need to be very good reasons.  Perhaps the reimbursing party was never provided a receipt, only an invoice, and the order says they have to pay 14 days after they receive a receipt.  That may provide the non-paying party for legitimate cause for not paying, in the eyes of a judge.  The bottom line is, parties need to be very careful and ensure they are acting in good faith to follow their divorce decrees, or it can become very expensive, very quickly.

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