Family Law

Enforcing a Property Division Order

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As part of a divorce action, usually the court will decide how the parties' property will be divided, that is, "who gets what." This is called a "property division order," and many states have laws that specify how such an order can be enforced. In other words, what can you do if your ex-spouse does not comply with the divorce's court's order?

There are numerous ways in which a spouse might enforce a property division order, and they vary greatly from state to state. Two of the most common means of forcing an ex-spouse's compliance with an order are:

  • Contempt proceedings, and
  • Injunctions

Again, state laws vary on the ways that you can enforce an order for the division of property in a divorce, and most of the available enforcement mechanisms are complex. If your ex-spouse is not obeying a court-ordered property division or property settlement, you need to read carefully your state's law on property division, or seek the advise of an experienced divorce attorney.


"Contempt" is the disobedience of a valid, lawful court order. If an ex-spouse refuses to comply with a court-ordered property division order, the other spouse might be able to file a "contempt proceeding" or "action for contempt" in which the injured spouse asks the court to hold the ex-spouse "in contempt of court."

Some state laws specifically provide that contempt is available to enforce compliance with a property division order. When the state law does not specifically allow for contempt proceedings, most courts will allow contempt proceedings only to the extent that the property division order does not involve the payment of money.

For example, contempt is usually available to enforce property division orders that require one spouse to convey or transfer property to the other spouse. But, if a property settlement requires one spouse to transfer property and pay the other spouse a certain sum of money, most courts will not allow the recipient spouse to file a contempt action because of the other spouse's failure to pay the money, but will allow a contempt action to address the failure to transfer property.

The penalties for contempt include a jail term, usually for no more than 30 days, or a fine, or both.


An injunction is a court order that tells someone to do a certain act or stop doing a certain act. Many state laws on property divisions allow for injunctions as a means of enforcing the court's order.

For example, if an ex-spouse is ordered to care for the parties' real property until it can be sold, and he or she fails to care for the property and it begins to lose value, the other spouse can seek an injunction to stop the ex-spouse's neglect of the property, that is, an injunction forcing the ex-spouse to care for the property.

If an ex-spouse later fails to obey an injunction, the other spouse can file an action for contempt.

Questions For Your Attorney

I got divorced a few months ago, but my ex-spouse still hasn't given me all of the property that I was awarded by the court. How long do I have wait, and is there anything I can do right now?

After the court made a property division order, my ex-spouse and I decided to trade some of the property that we got to each other, like I didn't really want the TV, so I traded it to him for the dinning room set. I gave him the TV, but he hasn't given me the dining room set. Is there anything I can do?

My ex-spouse was ordered by the court to sell our vacation time-share property and then give me one-half of the money. She still hasn't put the property up for sale. Can I force her to sell it?

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