Divorces vary in how they proceed. Some couples can wind down their marriages amicably and professionally, even filling out all the necessary paperwork themselves without the aid of legal representation. Others are less fortunate, suffering through long and acrimonious litigation only to come to a compromise that leaves neither party satisfied. Between these extremes are even more outcomes, with some spouses choosing alternative dispute resolution methods, such as mediation or collaborative divorce, to employ professional guidance without going to trial.
Despite these variations along the way, one fact is constant among the many pathways to divorce: a divorce agreement is always a legally binding document. Just as a marriage license is a legal document that certifies your partnership, so too is a divorce agreement. No matter how amicable or informal your proceedings may have been, you must not mistake requirements for suggestions. Though most ex-spouses remain in compliance, you should still know what happens if you violate the terms of your divorce.
Violation of a divorce agreement is typically financial in nature. Most violations consist of failing to pay child support or alimony completely in a timely manner. However, going to court costs time and money—resources that both of you are likely loath to spend if you don’t have to. Before your ex-spouse contacts the court regarding a failure to pay, you’re likely to hear directly from them regarding your violation. Consider this a warning. It’s an opportunity to make things right before getting the court involved. You may have transient circumstances, such as job loss or medical bills, that make it difficult to uphold your agreement. Talking the issue through may allow you and your ex-spouse to arrive at a temporary understanding.
However, such informal resolutions are not always possible. The most common remedy for a divorce settlement agreement violation is to have the offending party held in contempt of court. Remember that a divorce settlement is, technically, a court order. Even in cases where you and your ex-spouse were able to arrive at an agreement without resorting to litigation, these still require the signature of a judge. As a result, they’re legally binding no matter the process. In Illinois, an ex-spouse who is suffering from a violation may file a petition to show cause. This is a legally binding version of the aforementioned opportunity to discuss your situation. If you cannot show adequate cause to the court or refuse to do so, the judge will hold you in contempt of court, which can lead to jail time.
Understanding what happens if you violate the terms of your divorce should help you follow your settlement agreement. However, life does present twists and turns, and skilled legal representation can help you navigate them. If you are facing difficulties with an inequitable Illinois divorce settlement agreement, the firm of Schiller DuCanto & Fleck may be able to help you.