For some ex-spouses, their “final divorce hearing” is only the beginning of a long journey in divorce court; one that can be challenging, rewarding or sometimes both.
While you may like to think a case is over when the parties are divorced, the reality is that you may very well find yourself back in court one day.
Whether out of a need to enforce your decree or because your judge has maintained the power to modify portions for support and your children, there may be lingering issues that must be resolved.
Either way, it is important for those going through divorce to realize it may not be possible to cut ties with your ex entirely — even after your decree is finalized.
One reason you may wind up back in court would be for contempt.
Contempt is when a judge finds that a party who is obligated to perform a duty under an order willfully and knowingly violated that order.
For example, if your ex-spouse was required to pay a credit card debt but chose to vacation in Las Vegas instead, you could take her to court for a contempt hearing.
The penalties of being found in contempt are diverse, including jail time, community service and fines for criminal contempt, additional enforcement mechanisms, forfeiture of assets and attorney fees / costs for civil contempt.
Judges typically hold a hearing to determine the severity of the contempt, then fashion their remedies accordingly, with the most blatant violations receiving the stiffest penalties.
Another reason you may find yourself in front of a family court judge is to modify an existing court order
Generally speaking, the division of your assets and debts is final, binding and non-modifiable as of the date of your divorce. (There are exceptions if you learn of your ex’s fraud or mutual mistake.)
Matters pertaining to support and your children, however, are modifiable upon showing there has been a significant and continuing change of circumstances.
These hearings generally proceed in two steps:
First, there will be a hearing to show whether there has been that sufficient change as defined in your state’s laws. Next, a hearing will be held to determine what modification to make.
For child support, they will most likely recalculate what you owe based off your state’s support formula, and for custody, they will reassess the child’s best interests. These hearings proceed like trials, and they can sometimes take several months.
It is best to have an attorney’s assistance so that you can ensure timely — and correct — procedures. This is important because if you do something wrong and receive an adverse ruling, you generally cannot get a “second crack at it” by hiring an attorney later.
In either hearing, it is typical for a judge to require exchanges of exhibits, witness lists and briefs. If in reviewing these items the judge has questions about the case, he or she will conduct a prehearing conference with the attorneys or the parties directly if they do not have attorneys.
These conferences may serve as a basis to negotiate a settlement and / or prepare for trial.
If your case does proceed to trial, then you should be just as prepared as you were while your divorce was originally pending whether you went to trial or worked hard at settlement to avoid it.
This includes sending subpoenas, preparing witnesses, preparing exhibits, reviewing your own testimony, consulting with experts (professionals close to your children, vocational experts to speak on capacity to earn an income, therapists, doctors, etc.), reviewing law with your attorney, awaiting your judge’s ruling and possibly preparing for an appeal.
In other words, your post-divorce life can look very much like the trial that loomed while you were divorcing if you seek to enforce your orders or to modify them, so be prepared for another round or two in the family courts if issues arise down the road.
Mat Camp is a former Lexicon Services Online Editor, who focused on providing a comprehensive look into all aspects of the divorce experience. On MensDivorce.com, he concentrated on issues, such as parenting time, custodial rights, mediation, the division of assets, and so much more.
Mr. Camp used the wealth of experience of Cordell & Cordell attorneys to bring tangible answers to reader questions in Ask a Lawyer articles, as well as offer a step by step process through the divorce experience with Cordell & Cordell Co-Founder and Principal Partner Joseph E. Cordell in Divorce 101: A Guide for Men.
Mr. Camp used thorough research to highlight the challenging reality that those who go through divorce or child custody issues face. He helped foster the continued success of the Men’s Divorce Survival Guide, the Men’s Divorce Podcast, and the Men’s Divorce YouTube series “Attorney Bites.”