My ex is behind on the mortgage, credit card payments and money owed to me. All of this is ruining my credit since my ex is supposed to be handling it per the divorce decree. I don’t have money to get another lawyer to fight all of this. What can I do? Should I just file Chapter 7 bankruptcy and call it a day?
I do not practice bankruptcy law, so I cannot advise you on whether you should or should not file Chapter 7 bankruptcy. However, you do have options in family court, whether you chose to proceed on your own or with an attorney. If your ex-husband was ordered to make payments and he has failed to make them, you can enforce the order by filing a contempt motion. This motion could address support payments he was ordered to make or payments pursuant to your property division. I do not practice in your jurisdiction, so I can only speak in generalities.
Contempt of court is the intentional disobedience of an order of the court. An order that requires specific conduct or payments can be enforced by contempt. Most likely, your final judgment had some language that (1) each party assigned a debt shall be fully responsible for that obligation and shall not make any demands upon the other party concerning that debt; and (2) any party who suffers a loss because of a failure of the other party to pay an assigned debt may enforce that obligation by a motion for contempt of court.
Since creditors are not bound by your divorce judgment, each party may remain liable to creditors for all marital debts. It is then up to you to seek reimbursement, via a contempt motion, if you had to pay the creditors on his behalf.
The court then has discretion to enter an order to ensure compliance with its prior order. Typically, the court will order sanctions, and depending on the issues, this typically includes fines and could include jail time. The court then may also offer purge conditions, usually substantial compliance with the original order, as a way to avoid the sanctions.
In many jurisdictions, if you prevail on the contempt motion, the cost of your attorneys’ fees, if you have one, or your costs in pursuing the motion may also be awarded as a remedy. Although the court may not be able to make an order immediately changing your credit, the court could order him to pay you a sum of money it deems sufficient to compensate you for your loss and the injury he caused by his non-payment.
What you do not explain is the reason he is not paying anything. In order to be found in contempt, the court has to find that the person had the ability pay, but still refused. It is the intentional disobedience that often is the difficult burden to prove. If he has lost his job, his income has substantially decreased through no fault of his own, or for some other reasonable reason he does not have the money to make the payments, then the court may not be able to find him in contempt. However, the court may still make orders, if you request them in your motion, either modifying the judgment or other order to ensure compliance. For example, if he is unemployed, the court may order a job search that he must report on. Alternatively, the court may be able to modify the property division and award an asset that was previously awarded to him now to you to compensate you for your losses.
Your chances of success depend on the specifics of you case, the nature of the payments he failed to make, his financial circumstances, and the specific rules in your jurisdiction. I do not practice in Florida, so I cannot inform you as to the state’s specific laws. Cordell & Cordell has attorneys that are licensed and located in Florida, and they would be happy to discuss your case with you.
Angela Foy is an Associate Attorney in the Milwaukee, Wisc., office of Cordell & Cordell P.C. where her primary practice is exclusively in the area of domestic relations. Ms. Foy is licensed to practice in the state of Wisconsin, the U.S. District Court, and the Eastern District of Wisconsin. Ms. Foy received her Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees from the University of Notre Dame. She then continued on to receive her Juris Doctor from Marquette University.