Enforcement of Court Orders in Texas Family Law Cases
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Navigating the emotional turbulence of a divorce, child custody proceeding, or another family legal battle can be tough, but orders obtained upon the resolution of your case can provide a breath of fresh air and a plan for the future. Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee a former spouse, co-parent, or another person subject to such an order will always comply with its terms and conditions.
So, what can be done when the other party won’t abide by the terms of your family law court order? In Texas, the way to approach this situation is through an enforcement action – known as a “motion for enforcement” under the Texas Family Code Chapter 157.
When handled successfully, an enforcement action offers a number of benefits. Although the ultimate resolution sought depends on your unique case, court order, and circumstances, enforcement actions can:
- Ensure the integrity of a temporary or final order;
- Punish a violation of the court’s order (by contempt);
- Deter future violations.
Need to enforce a court order or defend against an enforcement action? Hendershot, Cannon & Hisey, P.C. can help. Call (713) 909-7323 or contact us online to speak with a lawyer.
What Can Be Enforced?
The Texas Family Code provides that either party subject to a temporary order or a final order can seek court intervention to enforce terms pertaining to:
- Division of property
- Spousal support (maintenance / alimony);
- Child support;
- Possession and access (visitation / child custody);
- Restraining orders; and
- Other contractual provisions.
Because court orders are binding legal agreements, it is imperative to understand the terms of any order to which you’ll be subject before signing off during a divorce, stand-along custody or family law case, or proceedings over modifications of existing orders. The smallest drafting error can make a provision difficult or sometimes impossible to enforce. It is therefore in your best interests to consult an experienced attorney to ensure you’ll be able to uphold your obligations, and that the order will be enforceable should the other party fail to comply on their end.
Another important note: family law enforcement actions in Texas are subject to a statute of limitations, meaning there is a time limit on when you can take legal action over a violation. Timely action is crucial to ensuring any motion for enforcement (or motion for contempt) you wish to seek won’t be barred by the statute of limitations, and that immediate relief from violations can be obtained.
Grounds for Enforcement
Circumstances which merit a post-decree or post-ruling enforcement action may include:
- Failure to pay debts as ordered
- Failure to sell or refinance an asset
- Failure to pay spousal maintenance
- Failure to pay child support or a child’s medical expenses
- Violating terms of a restraining order
- Failure to comply with visitation or custody “hand-off” times (i.e. school pick-up time)
- Passive contempt involving children who don’t want to visit the other parent
- Violations resulting from parental relocation / moving outside of geographic restrictions
- Failures to abide by holiday / summer schedules in Standard Possession Orders
Consequences for Violations
The burden of proof falls on the petitioning party to show how the other party violated a provision of an enforceable court order. A well-prepared, evidence-supported motion is more likely to prevail, depending on the claims, and more likely to result in “consequences” for the non-compliant party.
In addition to being compelled into compliance or having court orders amended in favor of the petitioning party, there may be exposure to additional consequences, including potential criminal charges, fines, jail time, payment of attorney’s fees, or other relief deemed appropriate (“just and right”) by the court.
Because certain violations can be quasi-criminal in nature, a proper drafting of a motion for enforcement is crucial, as is decisive action to wage a defense if you are the party alleged to have committed the violation.
Relief for Violations
Often in enforcement actions, the court will rule not just on an enforcement, but also issue additional rules, formally clarify an order, or compel repayment for non-compliance.
For instance, if your child was unjustly kept from you during designated visitation times, the court can mandate additional visitations to make up the lost time. If the court issues a finding on contempt, the court also orders the party at fault to pay for attorney’s fees.
Family Law Enforcement Actions: Let Proven Lawyers Protect Your Rights
Hendershot, Cannon & Hisey, P.C. has an active divorce and family law practice which prioritizes personalized working relationships and a dedicated focus on protecting clients’ rights and interests. Whether you have a potential enforcement action you wish to seek, or one which you must defend against, experienced representation can help you navigate the legal process ahead.
To speak with an attorney about your case, call (713) 909-7323 or contact us online.