Can My Ex-Spouse Go to Jail For Violating the Divorce/Family Court’s Order?

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You hope it does not happen, but sometimes an ex-spouse will refuse to comply with an Order issued by a Maryland/DC divorce or family court. The most common examples include violation of court Orders with respect to child support, custody and visitation. But there are other examples too, such as refusing to turn over assets, failure to pay alimony and other matters. Can my ex-spouse be sent to jail for violating the court’s Order? The answer is “yes,” but it is very rare. Read on for more information.

What can be done if an ex-spouse is violating the court’s Order?

As a general rule, Maryland and DC divorce and family courts will retain jurisdiction to enforce Orders that have been issued in the case. “Jurisdiction” is a legal term that simply means the court retains power and authority over the divorce case, the parties to the case and over children (if applicable). In general, courts require strict compliance with any sort of Order issued. If a party fails to comply with an Order, the court’s main enforcement power is its ability to hold the non-compliant party in contempt of court. Holding a person in contempt of court means the court can further command compliance and impose punishments such as monetary fines. Further, if the non-compliance has been or continues to be sufficiently egregious and willful, the contempt power can be used to imprison the non-complying party until compliance is forthcoming. So, under rare and extreme circumstances, if your ex-spouse has been egregiously and willfully non-compliant, then you can ask the judge to put your ex-spouse in jail! But, as noted, that does not happen very often. It is an extreme remedy and the courts will make great efforts to obtain compliance with less extreme methods.

In addition to the power of contempt, courts have inherent powers derived from equity which gives courts authority over property that is within the boundaries of Maryland or DC. Examples would be bank or financial accounts or real property located in Maryland/DC. Thus, if warranted, the court can use its power of equity to order the property seized or order it transferred (if the non-compliant ex-spouse is refusing to transfer an asset per the court’s original Order). The courts also have certain powers with respect to garnishing wages and other sources of income under some circumstances.

What is the process​?

Essentially, you must bring the non-compliance of your ex-spouse to the court’s attention by filing papers with the court requesting enforcement of the court’s Order. It is probably wise to have experienced Maryland/DC divorce and family court attorneys offer legal advice and assistance with the process. Once papers are filed, your ex-spouse must be notified and have an opportunity to respond to the allegations. Most often the court will conduct one or more hearings on the issues presented and will, eventually, issue a ruling.

What if my ex-spouse is living out-of-state?

Matters will be more complicated if the non-compliant ex-spouse is currently living out-of-state. If this is the case for you, it would definitely be wise to obtain the help of experienced Maryland/DC divorce and family court attorneys. That being said, even where the non-compliant spouse is living out-of-state, the process begins in the same manner – papers must be filed with the Maryland/DC court. The complication is providing notice to and obtaining a response from the ex-spouse and then enforcing any new Order issued by the court. However, there are many legal mechanisms for enforcing Maryland and DC court Orders against spouses who no longer live in either territory.

Maryland and D.C. Divorce and Family Law Attorneys

For more information, contact the seasoned and experienced Maryland and D.C. divorce, family law and estate planning attorneys at The Law Offices of Thomas Stahl. We have the experience and expertise you need. Schedule a consultation today or call us at (410) 696-4326 or (202) 964-7280.

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