Enforcing Court Orders in Family Law

August 7, 2017

What happens when your former spouse or ex-partner refuses to comply with a court order? After going through a difficult court proceeding and draining your bank account to pay legal fees, it is very frustrating when the adverse party refuses to cooperate.  A court order can feel meaningless.  Here are a few things that you can do:

1.  Document the failure to comply.

Although you may never, ever want to talk to your ex again, if there are continuing obligations in a divorce decree, a custody order or a child support order, it is important to send reminders to your ex, to ask that deadlines be met.  You can do this with or without an attorney.  Any attempts to ensure compliance needs to be in writing, so that you can document your efforts to resolve the issues.  Also, it is not helpful to include foul language, to insult the adverse party or to threaten the other party when seeking compliance.  You should not resort to social media either to insult or shame the other party.  The point of making a formal written demand, is to show a court that you have made a good faith effort to resolve the dispute with your ex before taking action in court.

2.  Make it clear that you will return to court, with or without an attorney.

Unfortunately, some people never behave, unless there is a credible threat that you will take them back to court.   It can be helpful to pay an attorney to draft a letter for you, whether or not you are able to pay an attorney to handle the entire enforcement application.

3. Tell your ex that you will demand counsel fees for his or her failure to comply and then seek fees in your application to enforce.

It can be challenging to get counsel fees in court.  However, Courts award fees more liberally when an application is brought to enforce an existing order.  See Court Rule 5:3-5(c)(8).

4.  File a motion.

The worst thing you can do is to just ignore the problem.  Courts will expect you to bring applications before them to enforce an order.   Also, circumstances change frequently for family court litigants.  Your ex may lose his or her job or leave the State of New Jersey.  If nothing else works and you can’t afford representation, file a motion in court as a self-represented litigant.