Enforcing Texas Family Court Orders

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How To Compel Parties To Live Up To Their Obligations

Having a family court order in place doesn’t do a lot of good if your former spouse or child’s other parent refuses to follow it. But fortunately for Texans who have found themselves in this position, a contempt order can compel the other party to follow the court order or face fines and/or jail time.

Texas courts have the ability to enforce orders concerning a number of family court matters, including:

  • Child support
  • Visitation
  • Property division
  • Post-divorce spousal maintenance

How Are Family Court Orders Enforced?

Family court orders are typically enforced through contempt proceedings. If a party is found to be in contempt of court, a judge might fine them, order jail time, or both. However, if a judge sentences a party to jail, the jail sentence might be suspended because of the likelihood that party will lose their job – not the best option. In lieu of jail time, the court could require the party to make specific payments, order them to pay attorney’s fees, court costs, and a fine, or place them on community supervision for five years or less.

In order for a court order to be enforceable through contempt, it must include “command language” that is clear, specific, and leaves no question regarding what the parties are being ordered to do. If a court order is too ambiguous to be enforced by contempt, the court can modify or clarify the order to give the party an opportunity to comply with it.

Others Ways To Obtain Compliance With Court Orders

Another option might be to address conflicts between parties with mediation. The parties can go to mediation voluntarily or one party can request a court to order mediation. If your county has a domestic relations office (DRO) that organization can help enforce parenting time (possession orders). However, the DRO does not represent either parent and cannot modify family court orders. Rather, its goal is to encourage both parties to follow the provisions of the order that is currently in place.

Orders That Cannot Be Enforced By Contempt

Certain orders contained in a divorce degree – such as those orders requiring a party to pay specific debts, liabilities or other obligations – are not typically enforceable by contempt because the law does not allow a party to be imprisoned for non-payment of a debt. One exception is child support, which is enforceable because it is not considered to be a debt; rather, it is seen as a duty all parents owe to their children.

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