Divorce settlements are a lot like personal injury lawsuits in that you may win the case but there's no guarantee the other party will pay the amount owed. While it can be challenging to get a reluctant ex-spouse to adhere to the divorce decree, you do have options available for enforcing the judge's orders. Here are a couple you can try.
File for a QDRO
A QDRO (Qualified Domestic Relations Order) is a court decree that orders the paying party to turn over a portion of the benefits available in his or her retirement plan. This order is commonly used to recognize one spouse's ownership interest in the other spouse's retirement plan, a right that may have been bestowed on the receiving spouse by state law or contributions he or she made to the retirement accounts.
However, QDROs can be used to collateralize support orders. If your ex was ordered to pay child and spousal support in the divorce decree and hasn't given you a cent of it, the court may award you a QDRO in the amount that's owed, which will allow you to take the money from your ex's retirement funds, for instance. It also possible to use this decree to put a lien on your ex's accounts to ensure he or she fulfills other obligations listed in the divorce order, such as turning over the family car.
These orders must comply with several rules to be valid, which may vary depending on which state you reside. Thus, it's best to consult with an attorney who has knowledge of how QDROs work in your jurisdiction for assistance with filing this order.
File for Garnishment of Wages and Accounts
Another option for getting your ex to comply with the divorce decree is to garnish his or her wages. This option works best on support orders, such as child support and alimony. However, you may be able to use this option to collect money to pay debts you agreed to share or other expenses.
Garnishments can be very effective because it cuts your ex out of the process. The bank or employer takes the money directly out of the account or paycheck and sends it to you, so you don't have to chase your ex down for the funds. Depending on which state you live in and the circumstances of your case, you can garnish up to 60 percent of your ex's disposable income.
Be aware that some funds cannot be touched. For instance, federal benefits such as Social Security cannot be garnished, though an exception is made if the money is owed for child support payments. Thus, you need to be sure your ex is receiving unprotected money before spending the time and money enacting this option.
Have Your Ex Held in Contempt
A third option is to request the judge hold your ex in contempt of court. When a person willfully refuses to do what the court orders, it can levy a variety of punishments against the person using a contempt motion. If your ex is found guilty, he or she may be ordered to pay fines, write a check to pay your attorney's fees, and even spend time in jail.
While this option doesn't directly pull money out of your ex's pocket like the last two options, the threat of penalty may be enough to motivate him or her to comply with the settlement order. However, you should expect there to be some increased antagonism between you and your ex if you employ this option.
For more advice on or assistance with getting your ex to adhere to your divorce order, contact a family law office, such as Kelm & Reuter, P.A.