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What if I Cannot Meet My Financial Obligations Under My Divorce Decree?

At the end of every divorce, a decree of dissolution of marriage will be entered with the court, i.e., a divorce decree.  This decree is a court order which sets out the rights and responsibilities for you and your spouse in terms of the following:

  1. Division of assets, debts, and personal property;
  2. Alimony (called spousal maintenance in Washington); and
  3. Miscellaneous issues.

Also, a child support order will be entered.  (A separate parenting plan will be entered regarding custody of your children, visitation, decision-making etc.)  In short, any type of financial obligation that needs to be resolved in a divorce will be discussed and decided in your decree and child support order.  If you and your spouse want to keep the terms of your financial settlement private, your decree will reference a separate “marital separation agreement” which typically is filed under seal.

In some cases, you may find that you can no longer meet your financial obligations as stated in your decree and child support order.  You must promptly take action if you find yourself in this situation.  For example, you might need to return to court to ask that child support be modified.  Whether you are entitled to a modification will depend in large part on what you want changed.  State statutes set out specific requirements for requesting a change in child support as well as time restrictions.  This keeps unscrupulous parents from repeatedly requesting a change.

State statutes also lay out specific requirements for modifying spousal support.  Both spousal support and child support modifications typically require that the requesting spouse demonstrate some sort of permanent change in his or her financial situation, such as a job loss or a severe injury.  In other words, simply telling the court that you do not have enough money will probably be insufficient to modify the support order unless the inability is due to a change that has happened since the last order.

Failure to fulfill your obligations and responsibilities under a court order can have consequences, some of which are severe.  Your former spouse could file to ask that you be held in contempt of court.  If he or she is successful, you could be fined or in some circumstances even be held in jail.  Your wages could be garnished, a lien put on your house, or assets seized.

Modifying your divorce order can be a complex process, and you need an experienced attorney to help you. We have helped many clients navigate this complicated issue. Contact our team today at (253) 272-9459 to discuss your final order and whether it needs to be modified.

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