Few things are more frustrating than an ex-spouse who refuses to comply with some aspect of the divorce decree. Whether you arrived at your decree after extensive settlement discussions or a trial, it's important that both you and your ex-spouse follow the terms of the Order unless you have an agreement otherwise.
Unfortunately, if your ex doesn't take quite the same view of things, you may find yourself dealing with his or her non-compliance, and wondering: if your ex is not complying with the divorce decree, how do you get him/her to do what they are supposed to?
First, let's talk about what not to do when your ex-spouse doesn't comply with your Minnesota divorce decree. The temptation is often strong to stop complying yourself. For instance, if your ex doesn't pay child support, you may be tempted to withhold parenting time. If your ex doesn't turn over a promised item of property in their possession, you may drag your heels on making sure your retirement account gets divided as agreed.
As satisfying as these responses may seem, avoid them! No court in Minnesota will excuse you for violating your divorce decree just because your ex did it first. Instead, you will likely end up back in court, paying your attorney to defend your actions.
While you may have to go back to court in order to get what you need, the best way to go is with clean hands—in other words, to ask for redress without having violated the decree yourself.
You should document as thoroughly as possible your ex's misdeeds and your reasonable efforts to get them to comply with the divorce decree. If your ex-spouse is denying visitation, for instance, you could send an e-mail saying, "I came to your house last night to pick up the kids at 5:00, as our divorce decree specifies. No one was home and you didn't answer your phone or texts. I waited for a half hour but never heard from you. Please let me know when we can make up this missed time."
Keep your tone calm and reasonable and your words factual. You might also want to give next steps, especially if violations keep occurring: "If you don't contact me within a week to make up the time, or if this happens again, I'll need to contact my lawyer to discuss my options for enforcing our divorce decree." Of course, don't be threatening, and don't suggest that you will take any action you don't intend to take. You should treat every communication with your ex as if the judge will be reading or hearing it (because they might).
Keep a record of all infractions and copies of all communications with your ex-spouse. If violations continue to occur, speak with your attorney. It may not be necessary to go back to court; a letter from your attorney might motivate your ex to be more compliant, or you may be able to mediate the problem issue. If your spouse persists in non-compliance, returning to court may be your best option.
If your divorce is not yet final there are ways to minimize the risk of non-compliance with the decree. Many violations of divorce decrees occur because obligations and consequences are not spelled out clearly within the decree. The clearer and more specific the language used, the harder it is to justify a violation. You may want to ask your lawyers to include a clause that if one of you needs to return to court, the other party will be responsible for attorney fees in enforcing the decree.
To learn more about how to get your ex-spouse to comply with your divorce decree, we invite you to contact our law office. We look forward to answering your questions.