One of the most challenging issues that a divorced couple can face as they’re co-parenting is if one or both parties aren’t following the provisions within the divorce decree. It’s a tricky issue, because the divorce decree is a legal document that aims to cover all the situations that parents might find themselves in. Child support amounts, parenting time, and other stipulations for the parents are spelled out in the decree, and it attempts to give parents guidelines they can follow clearly.
Sometimes, there are legitimate reasons that people can’t follow their decrees. If a parent paying child support loses his or her job, it can make it difficult to pay the full amount. If there’s a sudden winter storm that shuts down the city for a week, as we experienced very recently, it can make it unsafe or even physically impossible to transfer a child from one home to the other.
But other times, people willfully violate their decrees. They might be inconvenienced, they might be trying to prove a point, or they might be operating with the parenting time they’d like to have rather than the parenting time their decree allows them to have. Whatever it might be, it creates a problem that could have one of several legal solutions.
If it’s a child support situation in Texas, know that the state’s Office of the Attorney General has your back. If you’re not being paid the child support your decree says you’re owed, or you’re being paid but not as much as you should, those missing amounts are being tallied and drawing interest. There are a number of actions the state can take, including wage garnishment, to ensure that you’re getting paid what you’re owed, even if it might not happen as soon as you’d like it to.
Conversely, if you owe child support and can’t afford to pay it, due to a loss of job reduction of income, or other circumstances, you’re on the hook for that monthly amount until the decree is changed. You should definitely let the OAG know as soon as you’ve experienced a downturn in income; it’s better to notify them and make them aware of your circumstances — ignoring that you have legally-binding child support obligations will not make them go away.
That said, you can get the decree modified one of two ways. You can go to an OAG office and do a mediation with one of their employees, though that requires that your ex is willing to go along with it. Or, barring that, you can go to court and make your case, though you will have to be able to pay the legal fees enabling you to do that.
As we wrote in a previous article, visitation issues can be settled in court — possibly with make-up time awarded if you feel you were “cheated” out of parenting time. The most direct route to resolution, though, is communicating with your ex to see what you can work out. As we wrote, “Talking with your ex-spouse is the first and easiest course of action, as there may be a misunderstanding about the time of the custody exchange or a valid reason for being unable to attend such as unexpected traffic or work-related obligations.”
As we’ve mentioned before, the decree is there to provide guidelines to follow if you and your ex aren’t able to agree to something on your own. Sometimes, flexibility helps greatly, but trust issues can also get in the way there. Perhaps you agree to a trade your ex requests, and then a few months down the line, your ex refuses a similar trade. Disagreements over “my time” vs. “your time” can be very contentious. After all, if you miss out on something you wanted to do with your child because, for example, your ex didn’t get your child back to you the day the exchange was supposed to happen, it’s hard to get compensation for that. (Especially if what you really want is to be able to turn the clock back!)
If you are involved in a dispute where your ex is not following the decree, though, especially if you’re looking to take the case to court, don’t feel that you have license to also disregard the decree. If you do deviate from the decree at all, make sure you have written documentation like an email exchange to show that you’re both on the same page.
And, of course, keep to the decorum that you’d keep in your standing orders prior to the divorce — don’t speak ill of your ex to your children or lapse into disrespectful or hostile language directly to your ex. You want to make sure you’re not doing or saying anything that can be used against you in a court case.
If your ex is violating the decree and you’re not getting the sort of communication you’re looking for to resolve that directly, check in with the Law Office of Lisa A. Vance to discuss your options. It is possible to modify your decree, but it takes some work and some legal know-how to make that happen.