Once a divorce is finalized, some post-divorce actions may be required. If one party to the divorce doesn’t abide by the agreement or order, such as by refusing to pay spousal support payments, the aggrieved party may need to initiate an action to enforce the agreement. Alternatively, if one spouse isn’t happy with the result of a court order deciding a divorce decision, they may wish to appeal the order. Additionally, after a court order is entered, either party may wish to modify the order.
Post-Divorce Enforcement of a Court Order
If the parties entered into a separation agreement, which was not merged with a court order, that constitutes an enforceable contract. The aggrieved party can bring a contract action against the violating party to seek enforcement of the contract. More commonly, a separation agreement is incorporated into a divorce order and the provisions in the agreement are considered court orders. If a party violates a court order, the court can hold them in contempt. Being “in contempt” means a person has willfully violated a court order. It must be established that a violation was willful for the party to be held in contempt.
If a court finds a party in contempt of court, the party can be fined or jailed. Additionally, the court can force the violating party to remedy the breach, by requiring the party to pay any overdue amounts, add interest, create a payment plan, or other remedies the court finds appropriate to remedy and penalize the breach. If jail time is ordered for a party for failure to pay spousal or child support, the party will typically be released from jail once any owed money is paid.
Modification of a Court Order
As lives and circumstances change after a court order, individuals may wish to try and get an order modified. For example, if a former spouse was ordered to pay spousal or child support and lost their job, they may wish to have their child support obligation reduced. Conversely, if an individual receives child support from a former spouse and the former spouse receives a significant promotion and pay raise, the individual may seek an increase in child support payments. A non-custodial parent of a minor child may wish to later seek joint custody or increased visitation rights.
Before a court will approve a modification of an order of child custody, visitation, or child or spousal support, there must be a material change in circumstances. The change must have occurred after the original order was entered. A court will only modify a child support or custody order if it is in the best interests of the child. Common reasons for modification of court orders include changes in employment resulting in a significant change in income, loss of employment, relocation, disability, or illness.
Appealing a Child Custody, Child Support, or Spousal Support Order
Many family law matters in Northern Virginia are decided in Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court, rather than Circuit Court. If either party is unsatisfied with a final order of child custody or visitation, child support, or spousal support made by a judge in Juvenile Court, they can appeal the decision within 10 days of the order. The appeal will be de novo, meaning the court will hear the case as if it was the first time. If a party appeals a decision, the couple will get a new trial in Circuit Court and the relevant matter will be litigated again. Alternatively, if the original case was heard in Circuit Court, an appeal would be made to the Court of Appeals in Virginia. The Court of Appeals reviews the lower court’s decision and will only appeal it if the court finds an error was made.
If you are considering appealing or modifying an order or need assistance seeking enforcement of an order, our family law attorneys can help you navigate the process.