Modifying and Enforcing Divorce Decrees

Modification and enforcements in Knoxville and throughout Tennessee

Knoxville Modifying and Enforcing Divorce Decrees

Whether the terms of the divorce were agreed to between the parties or decided by the judge at trial, months or years afterwards, there may be need for modifications following the divorce.

Child support is the most common example. A change in the income for the person paying may necessitate an increase or decrease in child support.  Tennessee requires a change of 15% or more in the amount of support to require a modification either up or down. However, the income of the other parent also affects the total used in the “income sharing” formula and can influence a change.

Some alimony is subject to change and some is not.  In many cases, alimony may need to be modified due to a change in residence, a change in employment, or other circumstances.

Custody and visitation are other matters that can change as well. Check with your lawyer because some parts of the divorce can be changed and others cannot. An example of an item that cannot be changed by the court is property and debt division. Also, transitional alimony and alimony in solido most likely cannot be changed unless the court or the agreement has designated otherwise.

What you should know about contempt

In the event that one of the parties fails to follow a court order, the other party may be forced to start legal action to enforce the order and compel an action or inaction by the non-compliant party. The action is most often accomplished by filing a Petition for Contempt.

Common examples of a divorced party needing to seek enforcement of the divorce decree are:

  • The ex-spouse fails to pay support
  • The ex-spouse fails to turn over property
  • The ex-spouse refuses to allow court-ordered co-parenting time with children

Court remedies can include:

  • Wage assignment or garnishment
  • The Sheriff taking possession of money from a bank account
  • Holding the party in jail until he/she shows a willingness to comply

In each situation, papers are prepared by the attorney, filed with the court, and served by the Sheriff along with other papers. This pleading sets forth the court order, describes how the party failed to follow the court’s order, and states that the party was capable of complying with the court’s order. Usually the court will sign an order setting a hearing date and compelling the other party to appear in court to show cause why he or she should not be held in contempt of court. Following the hearing, and other procedural safeguards, the court may choose to jail the person who violated the court order.

The violation of the order can be either civil contempt or criminal contempt. Elements of civil contempt include proving that an individual has the present ability to comply with a court order and is simply choosing not to comply. Elements of criminal contempt include proving that an individual had the ability to comply with the court order but chose not to do so. An example of civil contempt is when one party has the ability to sign over half of an IRA to a former spouse but chooses not to complete the paperwork as agreed to by the parties and/or ordered by the court. An example of criminal contempt arises when a party had the ability to pay court-ordered support but chose to spend money on other items, such as a vacation. Depending on the facts and circumstances surrounding the contempt allegations, the amount of money at issue, and whether or not incarceration is seriously at issue, a petition for contempt can be a short and simple process or a very involved and lengthy procedure, costing more than some divorces.

Initiating contempt proceedings should be a party’s last resort. Sufficient planning should precede filing a petition for contempt to make sure that specific goals can be achieved during the process and to try to avoid unnecessary or ineffective litigation.

Additional post-divorce actions

Another category of post-divorce actions involves dealing with intentionally or unintentionally undisclosed assets. If a party failed to disclose the existence of an important asset or debt during the divorce process, the other party may choose to re-open the divorce by filing a post-judgment motion. Normally there are time limitations for bringing such actions. However, if one party relied upon an asset disclosure provided under oath as part of discovery and that disclosure failed to include the undisclosed asset, the wronged party may choose to assert a claim.

LaFevor & Slaughter can help you after your divorce decree is final

Every divorce is different. Your case may involve all or only part of the divorce process. You may want to discuss how we can help you once the divorce is final. At LaFevor & Slaughter, we put out nearly 40 years of experience to work for you even after the order has come through. To make an appointment with a skilled Knoxville divorce lawyer, please call 865.272.4454 or fill out our convenient contact form.