If you’ve been through a divorce, you understand the emotional difficulties and other challenges that go into coming up with a solution that works for both parties. Whether you came to an agreement through negotiations, or had a court decide child custody issues and spousal support, it’s often a major relief for everyone once the process is over. However, what happens when one spouse fails to live up to their obligations?
If your former spouse is not honoring a court-ordered parenting plan, child custody arrangement, or an order to pay spousal support. The Oregon and Washington family law attorneys at Gearing Rackner & McGrath can help. We are intimately familiar with the disagreements that can—and often do—arise after a divorce is finalized. We will work closely with you to understand your needs, and then come up with a practical solution to any of the problems you face.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 243,000 people received spousal support payments in 2016. Of those, 98 percent were women. However, according to recent data from the IRS, 361,000 people claim to pay spousal support, but only 178,000 report actually receiving spousal support payments.
In the United States, 7.7 percent of marriages end in divorce. Oregon, however, has a higher divorce rate, with 10.1 percent of marriages ending in divorce. This is the fifth-highest divorce rate in the country. Washington’s divorce rate was also higher than the national average, with 9.6 percent of marriages ending in divorce.
Multnomah County has the highest rate of divorce in Oregon, with approximately 2,500 divorces each year. This accounts for almost 20 percent of all Oregon divorces.
In Portland, about 12.9 percent of residents have been through at least one divorce.
The Oregon cities with the highest divorce rates are:
• Junction City
• Sweet Home
• Eagle Point
• St. Helens
Enforcing an Oregon Child Custody Agreement, Parenting Plan or Alimony Order
After a divorce, former spouses often end up taking on duties to the other spouse. Whether it be a court-ordered spousal maintenance arrangement or a mutually agreed-upon parenting plan, ex-spouses commonly need to deal with one another after their marriage ends. Most often, these obligations arise in the context of spousal support, child custody or child visitation. In some cases, the parties live up to their obligations and no further problems arise. However, in a growing number of cases, one of the parties violates an arrangement.
Former spouses have a variety of options when it comes to enforcing an Oregon divorce agreement. Generally, the best approach is to see if the issues can be worked out without court intervention. However, if that isn’t the case, a spouse may need to file a content or enforcement action.
What Is Contempt?
Contempt is the willful disobedience of a court order. In the family law context, courts have discretion in their ability to issue sanctions against parties who disobey a court order. Thus, if a former spouse is intentionally withholding spousal support payments, or interfering with a child custody or visitation order, the party violating the arrangement may be held in contempt.
Sanctions for contempt may include fines or confinement. Either of these sanctions can be remedial or punitive in nature.
Punitive Versus Remedial Sanctions
Oregon and Washington courts can issue remedial or punitive sanctions if a party is found to be in contempt. A remedial sanction is one that is intended to correct the conduct that formed the basis of the violation. On the other hand, punitive sanctions are designed to punish a party for their behavior.
Both fines and confinement can be either remedial or punitive. For example, a fine is remedial if it is based on continuing contempt and the fine accrues until the defendant complies with the court’s order or if the fine may be forgiven when the defendant complies with the court’s order. However, a fine for past contempt that is no longer ongoing is considered punitive. Similarly, confinement is remedial if the defendant is released as soon as they comply with the court’s order, and it is punitive if the confinement is for a definite period of time, regardless of the defendant’s future compliance.
In both Oregon and Washington, punitive sanctions can only be pursued by certain prosecuting attorneys, making remedial sanctions the only option in most cases.
What Is Enforcement?
An enforcement action is a petition that requests court involvement in forcing a party to comply with a divorce agreement. When a party asks the court to enforce a court order, they are less concerned with punishing the offending party, and more concerned with getting them to honor the terms of the agreement. Courts can order a wide range of remedies through an enforcement action, including ordering make-up visitation time, adjusting a parenting plan, and ordering the offending parent to pay for the other party’s legal fees.
Both contempt and enforcement are available options for those who believe their former spouse is not living up to their obligations. However, contempt is seen as a more serious remedy, and requires a higher burden of proof. Thus, in most cases, an Oregon enforcement action is the better option to get the offending spouse back on course.
When Should You Seek Enforcement or Contempt?
There are a variety of circumstances that may arise after a divorce in which one party may seek contempt or enforcement of the court’s order. Generally, a contempt or enforcement action is most appropriate when the issue involves a formal court order. Thus, if an ex-spouse is violating a causal arrangement, you may need to reach out to an Oregon divorce lawyer to see about obtaining a more formal arrangement.
However, assuming that a formal arrangement exists, a contempt or enforcement action may be appropriate in the following circumstances:
• Your ex-spouse is refusing to pay spousal support;
• Your ex-spouse is violating a child-custody order by keeping a child in their physical custody; or
• Your ex-spouse is violating the terms of a parenting plan, by consistently show up late or early, missing pick-ups or drop-offs, or allowing children to be in the presence of people they are not allowed to be around.
How to Ask the Court to Enforce a Child Custody Agreement or Alimony Order
If your ex-spouse is violating the terms of a child custody agreement, parenting plan, or spousal maintenance plan, the first thing to determine if the agreement was formal or informal. Courts are less likely (and may not be able to) enforce informal agreements. Thus, before pursuing any further action, you may need to petition the court to devise a more formal arrangement.
However, before going to court, you may want to see if you can work out a solution with your ex, first. For example, if your former spouse is not paying spousal maintenance, it is important to consider why. Did they lose their job, incur significant medical expenses after a sudden illness or accident, or are they just intentionally withholding payment? Depending on the answer, it might make the most sense to come up with a workable solution out of court. You may consider using a neutral third party, such as a mutual friend or professional mediator, to come up with a solution.
If an out-of-court solution doesn’t appear to be likely, or you’ve tried and failed, the next step is to consult with an Oregon or Washington contempt and enforcement lawyer to discuss your options. However, it is important to keep in mind that courts will not get involved in trivial matters. For example, if your ex dropped your children off late two weeks in a row, this may not rise to the level necessary to warrant court involvement. On the other hand, if the pattern is continuous, taking the issue to court can help you enforce the parenting plan.
Along these lines, it is important to maintain detailed and accurate records of potential violations. This way, if and when you need to go to court, you can present the court with documentation of the violation. For example, consider keeping a log of each time your ex shows up late or misses a pick-up.
Oregon Contempt Enforcement Frequently Asked Questions
Are You Having Difficulties Enforcing a Washington or Oregon Divorce Agreement?
If your former spouse is not living up to their obligations after a divorce, contact the dedicated Oregon and Washington family law attorneys at the law firm of Gearing, Rackner & McGrath, LLP. Our dedicated team of contempt and enforcement attorneys are skilled negotiators who can often resolve conflicts without the need for court involvement. However, we also understand that, sometimes, you need to ask the court for help enforcing an arrangement. If you are unsure of what to do next, give us a call. We can go over your options with you, and help you come up with a practical solution to whatever problems you are facing. We provide custom-tailored legal advice and solutions for clients throughout Oregon and Southwest Washington, including in Multnomah County, Clackamas County, Washington County, Clatsop County, Columbia County, Yamhill County, Clark County, Cowlitz County, Skamania County and Klickitat County. To learn more, call us at 503-222-9116 or contact us through our online form.