Most litigants leaving Court with an Order in their hands, understand that failing to follow the terms outlined in the Order could have serious consequences. Often those consequences are spelled out in the Order filed with the Court, which helps keep the litigants’ behavior in check. So long as both parties have this understanding, they may never find themselves in another attorney’s office or courtroom again. But when a Court Order is just another piece of paper to the other party, what can you do? Enforcing court orders may require multiple steps and often requires a lot of patience.
Unlike a tango (or college contribution), it only takes one party to a Court Order, Consent Order, or Settlement Agreement to cause trouble. While the Court does have the authority to enforce its own orders, when dealing with an individual who may not take those Orders seriously, another Order merely reinforcing the directions in the first Order may be worthless. However, if the Court is presented with specific requests on a Motion to Enforce Litigant’s Rights, the Court has the discretion to use a variety of tools at its disposal . Cooperation in enforcing court orders can be the key to success.
One such tool is Rule 5:3-7. This Rule of Court, specific to family law matters, is designed to ensure that an Order carries more weight than just the paper it’s printed on. Subsection (a) deals with violations of Custody and Parenting Time Orders. These violations can take many forms including but not limited to: a custodial parent doesn’t make a child available for the other parent in a timely manner (or at all); a parent doesn’t pick up and drop off the child in a timely manner (or at all); a parent doesn’t consult with the other parent about major life decisions affecting the child.
In the face of such non-compliance, upon request, the Court can order make-up parenting time, reimbursement of expenses incurred due to the failure to comply, modification of transportation arrangements (or of parenting time itself), counseling, community service, and even incarceration or the issuance of a bench warrant if the Order is further violated. However both of those latter options are at the bottom of the Court’s list of effective remedies for non-compliance, and are reserved for the most egregious violations.
Subsection (b) addresses violations of both child and spousal support orders. When a party does not pay their child or spousal support, the financial consequences can be devastating, and long lasting. While sometimes a support obligation may go unpaid because the person required to pay does not have the money, other times a support obligation is purposefully withheld permanently, or delayed past the payment date, out of spite, bitterness, or to exact revenge. This Court Rule allows an aggrieved party to request, and for the Court to Order, the entry of a judgment (with interest) for the amount owed to the other party, periodic payments towards the arrears accrued (often referred to as an “arrears payback amount”), suspension of a driver’s/occupational license, community service, incarceration, or the issuance of a bench warrant if the Order is further violated (often referred to as “missed payment bench warrant status”).
Under both subsections, the Court is also empowered to enter economic sanctions against the party who has not complied with the prior Order, and additionally, under its authority from other Court Rules, can compel the defaulting party to pay the other’s counsel fees (if any) incurred in filing the Motion to Enforce.
These Court Rules, however, still may not provide the answers some parties are looking for when dealing with an uncooperative ex. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in sanctions could be assessed against a party due to their consistent refusal to cooperate with the initial and subsequent Orders, and the cooperative ex may never see payment of the sanctions, let alone see compliance with the initial provision of the Order.
Rather than get caught up alone in the vicious Motion cycle when you’re stuck with an uncooperative ex, advice from an attorney can help you in future efforts to ensure that Orders are complied with in the way the language of the Order was originally intended to read. Whether you are contemplating your first, or fifteenth, enforcement motion, contact Jacobs Berger, LLC, today to create your roadmap of relief.