If you are dealing with an ex who isn’t complying with the terms of your divorce judgment, you could have a lengthy, exhausting and even futile journey ahead of you.
Enforcing a judgment in California can be extremely difficult for many reasons. These reasons include, among others, evasive and/or broke exes, uncooperative third parties and technical legal procedures.
If you are facing an enforcement conundrum and wondering where/how to begin, I offer these three practical tips, which are drawn from my professional enforcement measures taken as a family law trial attorney.
1. Determine whether your ex has the ability to comply with the orders before attempting enforcement. Trying to enforce orders when your ex truly is incapable of complying will be like trying to get blood out of stone.
In other words, your enforcement efforts, no matter how exhaustive, will be for naught because even if ordered to do so, your ex doesn’t have the ability comply. This often happens when an ex has a support obligation that he/she cannot meet because he/she is unemployed. It also frequently happens when an ex is supposed to refinance a joint mortgage but he/she can’t qualify for a loan.
So before you spend a lot of time and money trying to enforce your Judgment it’s worthwhile to first discover if your ex has the ability to comply. (Your discovery process might include informal legwork or formal discovery tools like subpoenas, interrogatories, document demands, requests for admissions, etc.)
2. Ask an experienced professional to help you enforce the Judgment. The method you use for enforcing your divorce judgment depends on the type of order (e.g. property or support) and the terms of your divorce Judgment.
If you included specific enforcement terms in a negotiated settlement agreement, you’ll need to follow the agreed upon enforcement procedures. If you didn’t include specific language or you’re enforcing a court order, you may have a number of enforcement options available. Using the proper enforcement measure correctly and quickly is essential especially in cases where money is being temporarily held by third parties like escrow companies and banks.
An experienced family law attorney should be able to help you identify the correct enforcement process, satisfy the technical requirements, avoid common pitfalls and ultimately, improve your chances of successful enforcement. An experienced attorney also should be able to help you determine whether it makes financial sense to try and enforce your Judgment. If the costs would ultimately outweigh the rewards, enforcement may not be an option you want to pursue.
If your ex isn’t complying with a child support order, you may be able to use the enforcement services provided by your local Child Support Enforcement Agency. This agency has an incredible ability to find and attach income or assets for purposes of enforcing child support orders. But, clients also have told me their cases were turned down by agency staff who believed it would be too difficult to enforce a judgment. That said, the Child Support Enforcement Agency could be one of your best options so may be worth investigating even if you have the means to pay an attorney.
3. If enforcement is essential, be diligent and persistent in your efforts. I get it, you’re tired. You want all of the loose ends in your divorce to be tied up. You want to move on. But if you’ve decided enforcement is necessary or extremely important to you, you can’t give up.
You have to be vigilant and consistent in your efforts. For example if your ex is a real estate agent you may need to track his/her deals so you can intercept commissions when they are in escrow. Or if you expect your ex to receive year-end bonuses, which must be divided or shared with you, you’ll probably need to subpoena your ex’s employment records yearly. Ultimately, if you’re trying to enforce a judgment or agreement you may need to make multiple attempts over long periods of time until you find full and final satisfaction.
If you have questions about if and how you can enforce the terms of your California divorce judgment and would like my help, please schedule a consulting session.