A property settlement agreement or divorce settlement agreement is the final word in just about every facet of your divorce. The terms laid down in the agreement allow you and your ex-wife to stay in your lanes, avoid future court battles, and find a level of peace you may not have known in marriage. What if, though, she violates the terms of the agreement? How do you get justice when she is not obeying? The same family law attorney who helped you through divorce has a dog in that fight.
Stay: Be Cautious and Be Educated
Before leaping into action, calling law enforcement, and paying for your divorce attorney to file motions, stay calm and make absolutely certain she is, in fact, violating the terms of the divorce settlement agreement.
Reread the divorce settlement agreement. Some agreements are complicated. Some of the original wording you may have wanted could have changed by the time the Virginia Circuit Court judge signed off on it. You may have misunderstood something. Talk to your attorney. You may pay for a consultation, but you may save embarrassment and further expense.
Being late with swapping the children for parenting time once or twice is not evidence of deliberate violation. Gather facts, not suspicions. Your attorney worked hard to craft the divorce settlement agreement. Your divorce law firm will be happy to sic the Virginia courts on your ex-wife, but only if you provide hard evidence.
Bark: Serve Up a Warning
Many ex-spouses treat the immediate months after divorce as a last round of guerilla warfare. They were unable to inflict serious damage through the courts, so in day-to-day actions, they sabotage each other and, often, their own children.
Justice is not retribution. Justice is not revenge. Justice, unfortunately, is not always moral or fair. But the Virginia justice system strives to erase emotion from legal actions, to distance the trauma from the outcome.
Your ex-wife may be violating terms of the divorce settlement agreement to poke and prod you, to annoy you, or to rebuild her self-esteem. Your first option is to have your divorce attorney bark.
Yes, bark — your attorney needs to provide an initial warning, not leap immediately to court motions. An initial cease-and-desist letter from your attorney will cost you less and take less time than formal filings and may get the result you want. If not, the law does have teeth.
By either name, a divorce settlement agreement or property settlement agreement is a court order. Violating a court order is contempt of court. Contempt of court can be either civil or criminal contempt. Both are punishable with jail time or fines, or both, under numerous parts of the Code of Virginia.
For example, violating conditions of child or spousal support places your ex-wife at risk of “confinement in a jail, workhouse, city farm, or work squad,” under § 16.1-292, as ordered by a Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court judge.
The Code gives judges wide latitude in punishing contempt, from gentle “show cause” orders to summary judgments and immediate confinement for misbehavior in court. Like their brethren in Juvenile and Domestic Court, Circuit Court judges enjoy broad privileges to charge and punish contempt.
If your ex-wife is unsure whether she is committing a civil or criminal violation in testing the patience of the court, the rule of thumb is jail.
If she has the “keys to the jail” through her choices, the violation is civil. Refusing to pay you spousal support, for example, may land her in jail until she pays up. Once she pays, she essentially “unlocks” her jail cell and gets out. Her actions and choices dictated her punishment.
If her actions have no effect on jail time, her contempt is criminal. The judge has almost no discretion when jailing her for criminal contempt of court.
The bottom line: your ex-wife plays with prison time and expensive fines when she ignores a divorce settlement agreement.
Bite: Finding the Right Team
Your rights as a Virginia citizen are not secondary to your ex-wife’s rights or your children’s rights. Your family law attorney can use all the levers of the Virginia court system to put the bite on your ex-wife for failing to follow the court’s order.
You and your attorney must walk a careful path with this administration of justice, though, to ensure it does not venture into vengeance. Human nature may compel you to want to take a pound of flesh from your ex-wife but consider that you and she must still communicate and co-exist (however distant) once the current crisis is concluded.
If you face uncertain legal hurdles, please contact The Firm For Men by calling our Virginia Beach office at (757) 383-9184. We can put a stop to other parties treading on your rights as a Virginia man. From property settlement agreements to custody battles, we are here to protect you.