In this economy, we are frequently presented with cases in which a former spouse has failed to fulfill his or her monetary obligations under the terms of a divorce decree. Clients often assume that once the divorce decree is entered; the other party will simply comply with whatever awards it dictates. Unfortunately, this often turns out not to be the case and therefore, it is important to have a good understanding of the available remedies for the breach of a divorce obligation.
The most important concept to understand is that there is a distinction between property settlement awards and awards which are determined to be in the nature of support (alimony, child support, attorney’s fees). This distinction governs the remedies that are available and the loopholes which might exist for a non-complying party.
Property division awards in a divorce decree are treated as any other civil judgment and they place a recipient spouse in the same footing as any other creditor. On the plus side, these awards are considered a vested property interest and therefore they are non-modifiable regardless of whether circumstances change after the divorce decree is entered. However, this also means that enforcement remedies are limited to those available to other creditors.
In the event of a default the recipient spouse is entitled to a money judgment for either the amount that was ordered in the divorce decree or the fair market value of the property that was supposed to be turned over. With this judgment in hand, the spouse can direct the Sheriff to seize (and sell) property, garnish bank accounts or even confiscate a portion of the breaching party’s income.
In order to enforce this judgment, as a practical matter, the recipient spouse will need to record the decree in the County where the defendant lives, register it with the Florida Secretary of State and locate the property to be seized, garnished or confiscated.
The enforcement of a property division award, or any other provision of a divorce decree, can be a complex and daunting challenge. The lawyers of the Ferraro Law Group have been assisting clients in Stuart and the Treasure Coast with alimony, property division and enforcement issues in divorce for more than thirty (30) years.