How to Enforce a Divorce Decree Without an Attorney

By Beverly Bird

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Achieving a divorce decree you can live with is sometimes just the first part of the battle. Fortunately, the law is set up to allow you to compel your ex to comply with the terms of your decree or judgment, even if he refuses. Your decree is an enforceable court order, so if you reach out to the court, justice will almost invariably be done. It might take some time and effort, however.

Contact the courthouse in the county where you received your divorce decree. Try to speak with a judge’s law clerk, if possible. Explain to him what part of your decree your spouse is violating. Depending on the nature of your problem, you may have different avenues of recourse. If your judge’s law clerk is not available, ask to speak with the court clerk’s office.

File a motion for enforcement or contempt, depending on the instructions you receive from the court. The court clerk can usually give you the proper forms to complete. File them under the case or docket number written on your decree and attach a copy of your decree.

Attend the scheduled court hearing so a judge can address your problem. The court clerk will usually give you a date when you file your motion. Be prepared to receive less from the judge than you’re asking for. In most cases, he will issue your ex-spouse a warning. He will probably issue another court order, directing your ex-spouse to do what the decree already ordered him to do, within a certain period of time.

File another motion with the court if your spouse still doesn’t comply. By now, you’ll be an experienced pro with the process. This time, attach both a copy of your decree and the most recent court order. If your spouse forces you to take him back to court a second time, the judge will probably order sanctions against him, including payment of your court costs, jail time for contempt or a new parenting plan that eliminates or restricts his visitation. If your visitation has been shortchanged, a judge might order your ex-spouse to give you additional time with your child to make up for it. If your ex-spouse owes you money, a judge could direct a lien against his property or interception of his tax refund.


If your ex-spouse is not paying child support, your solution may be a simple phone call to your state’s child support collection unit to have them pursue him for payment. When you initially contact the court, someone can tell you if this is the case.

If your ex is in violation of custody or visitation aspects of your decree, document your case well before you file a motion, then attach your proof. One way to do this is to keep a diary of all the times he has refused to return your child or give you access to your child according to the terms of your parenting plan. Back up your diary by taking a copy of your decree to local law enforcement and asking an officer to retrieve your child each time your spouse refuses to return her. Not all law enforcement personnel will do this, because your divorce decree is a civil, not criminal, order. If the officer refuses to get involved, ask for an incident report each time, confirming what occurred and that you had to ask for help.