Question: I was divorced in July of this year. We were given joint custody of our two minor children but if either one of us moves out of our county, the non-moving party will become the primary custodian of the minor children and the joint custody arrangement shall be extinguished. This is what the decree says but the police say they will not stop my ex-wife from taking her (our) children out of state. My question is how can I get some backup from the police to enforce my divorce decree?
Answer: It is unclear whether or not she has already moved out of your county and is not abiding the Order or if she is contemplating moving and you are concerned she may not abide by the Order. More and more, police officers are unwilling to enforce divorce decrees without an order from the court directing the department to do so. Often, the divorce decrees require the Officer to interpret the document and an Officer may be concerned that the Order presented is not the current Order of the Court. If the police are not willing to enforce your order, you must file a motion with the court to enforce the terms of the Order.
If she has already moved and is not following the provisions of the Order, then you should contact an attorney immediately as she is violating a court order and should be held in contempt of court. The Court would then direct her to comply with the Order or face sanctions which could include a jail sentence. I do not practice in Arkansas, therefore, you should contact a domestic litigation attorney immediately to discuss the process for obtaining a contempt order in your state.
If she has not moved yet, but is threatening to not follow the Order, she is not in contempt. Unfortunately, you would have to wait until she violates the Order prior to motioning the Court for contempt. If you believe this move is imminent, you should contact an attorney immediately so that he or she may react quickly by filing the motion the minute she fails to comply with the terms of the Order.
Additionally, you should be aware of whether or not she will seek a modification of the current custody and placement order. The terms of your current custody arrangements and the specific requirements of the laws of your state as to timelines and criteria for custody reviews would need to be reviewed. All the more reason you should consult a domestic litigation attorney to make sure your rights are protected.
Erica Christian is an Associate Attorney in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin office of Cordell & Cordell, P.C. She is licensed to practice law in the state of Wisconsin. She is a member of the Wisconsin Bar Association, the Family Law Section and the Children’s Law Section.