Legal Actions if You Don't Pay a Divorce Settlement in Ohio
By Beverly Bird
When you reach a marital settlement agreement with your spouse, a judge will review the agreement, approve it and incorporate it into a final divorce decree. The terms of the agreement are as binding as if the judge ordered them after a trial. Like most states, Ohio’s legislation contains specific recourse for the injured party if one spouse doesn't abide by the settlement terms.
Your agreement might include an equitable distribution payment to your ex-spouse if you receive an asset that you can’t or don’t want to liquidate so you can give your ex her share of its worth. If you elect not to liquidate it, you can agree to make a cash payment to her in an amount equal to her share of its value. Most divorce settlement agreements include a specific date by which you’re obligated to make such a payment. If you don’t, your ex has the right to take you back to court. In Ohio, these proceedings are motions to show cause or motions for contempt. She must serve you with a copy of the motion, letting you know that she’s asked the court to enforce the terms of your agreement. The court will schedule a hearing and you’ll have to appear before a judge or magistrate to explain why you failed to perform.
After the judge hears your reasons for non-compliance, he’ll probably just instruct you one more time to do what your agreement obligates you to do. He may order you to pay your ex’s court costs or attorney’s fees because your refusal to comply forced her to spend money to get the court involved. If you have a legitimate reason for not performing, such as that you lost your job or couldn’t secure a loan to come up with the money, the judge might “continue” the matter to give you a little more time to straighten things out. He’ll schedule another court date in the future, at which time you’ll have to appear and show the court what further efforts you’ve made to comply. If you don’t have a legitimate reason for not performing and you still don’t comply after being ordered to do so a second time, the judge can and probably will probably hold you in civil contempt. In Ohio, this gives him the right to send you to jail.
If you're not making spousal support payments, your ex can file a motion with the domestic relations court asking that you be found in contempt of court. If you’re not making child support payments, your ex can notify Ohio’s Child Support Enforcement Agency in addition to filing a motion to show cause. Either the CSEA or the court can take steps to intercept your tax refunds or take other collection efforts against you to force you to pay.
If you can’t make a payment you’re supposed to make, speak with an attorney as soon as possible instead of waiting for your spouse to take legal action against you. It may be possible for you to file a motion yourself, asking the court to modify the terms of your agreement because of a change of circumstance that prevents you from complying. The court might either restructure your agreement or at least extend the deadline by which you have to perform. If you bring the problem to the court's attention rather than letting your ex do so, you may be able to avoid being charged with contempt.
Beverly Bird is a practicing paralegal who has been writing professionally on legal subjects for over 30 years. She specializes in family law and estate law and has mediated family custody issues.