Couples who divorce in Northern Virginia are often bound by obligations that go well beyond the date of their divorce. Circuit Courts in Northern Virginia, which are trial-level courts, have jurisdiction not only over your divorce, but also over equitable distribution (which is legalese for property and debt division), spousal support, child custody and visitation and child support. Each one of those items can be the subject of rulings by the court, which provide for continuing obligations of one spouse to the other, sometimes forever. Unfortunately, despite the fact that they are court-ordered obligations, former spouses can fail to act per their responsibilities in the order. So, what can you do when this happens?
Equitable Distribution Awards in Northern Virginia Divorces
Equitable distribution awards in Northern Virginia divorces often contain provisions for the disposition of the marital residence. A provision to divide the house by a buyout of a former spouse upon a refinance or sale of the marital residence is a common provision in a property settlement agreement (a contract between you and your spouse that settles the case). Mortgages create major financial obligations for individuals and a former spouse’s noncompliance can cause serious problems. Courts retain jurisdiction over orders they enter when parties do not comply. If your spouse refuses to comply with an order, you can bring an action for contempt against them; in Virginia, it’s called a Petition for Rule to Show Cause. This means that the other party, based on the allegations in an affidavit, can be ordered to appear in court to “show cause,” or explain, why they should not be held in contempt of court. Courts in Northern Virginia have the authority to punish the former spouse with jail time if necessary. Courts also have the authority to make a former spouse pay the legal fees of the spouse who had to bring the case against their former spouse, but whether or not this happens is in the discretion of the judge.
Custody and Visitation
The same rules about incarceration, payment of fees and other forms of relief in contempt proceedings apply to custody and visitation rulings. It is less likely that a former spouse would be thrown in jail for violating a parenting agreement or a visitation schedule, but still possible depending on the circumstances. The obligations under a visitation schedule are usually those of the spouse with primary custody; i.e. to make the child available at the set times listed in the visitation order. In the custody and visitation context, another action that may be appropriate, besides filing a Petition for Rule to Show Cause, is filing for a modification of the custody and visitation schedule. A former spouse’s noncompliance with the custody and visitation order may constitute a change in circumstances necessary to modify an existing arrangement. In Northern Virginia custody and visitation matters, a change in circumstances in conjunction with consideration of the child’s “best interests” as defined by Virginia law, is required to alter existing schedules.
Spousal Support and Child Support
Enforcement of spousal and child support obligations is arguably the most rigid area of family law; nearly as rigid as the obligation to pay child support. It is simple: if a former spouse is ordered to pay child support and spousal support, and they do not, the amounts owed will continue to accrue, with interest, and until paid-in-full. One of the few exceptions to this rule is forgiveness of the amounts owed by the former spouse or co-parent to whom the money is owed. Similar penalties, including incarceration, are available here too.
Enforcement of obligations after your divorce or custody case is over in Northern Virginia can be a complicated process. You should consult with an experienced Northern Virginia family law lawyer to determine what you can do to remedy the situation.