Family Law

How Do I Enforce a Property Division Order During My Divorce?

By Kristina Otterstrom, Attorney
Enforcing who gets what in a divorce.

What Do Property Division Orders Cover?

Dividing property in a divorce can be complicated. A property division order should cover all aspects of ownership and maintenance of property owned by you and/or your spouse. The order itself will list the property address and designate you or your spouse as the property owner and responsible party for any mortgage, maintenance expenses, or rental fees.

For example, your divorce property order may designate you as owner of the rental unit that you and your spouse purchased during your marriage. As owner, you’ll be responsible for collecting rent, maintaining property insurance, paying property taxes and performing any needed repairs on the property. In other situations, your spouse may be responsible for maintaining the mortgage on your marital home during the divorce and keeping the property in good condition to sell. In an ideal world, both spouses would follow the court’s orders perfectly and there wouldn’t be the need for a court to enforce its orders. However, if your spouse ignores the court’s orders, you have legal recourse.

Understanding Contempt

In most states, you or your ex could face contempt charges if either of you violates a property division order. A finding of contempt means that you or your spouse has disobeyed the court. Either spouse can bring a contempt action by filing the appropriate paperwork and proving that the other spouse has willfully violated the terms of the court order. If a court agrees that one spouse is in contempt, the judge may order penalties against that spouse, including jail time, a fine, or both.

Different states have different rules regarding contempt. Specifically, certain states like Florida, Indiana, and Minnesota don’t allow contempt charges to enforce a property division order. Judges in these states have refused to issue contempt charges against a spouse who failed to make payments on a property or a spouse who failed to pay property taxes as required by a court order. If you live in one of these states, you may need to use a different legal remedy to enforce your court order.

Injunction Basics

An “injunction” is another enforcement mechanism you can use if your spouse refuses to comply with the court’s property division order. An injunction tells someone to stop or start doing a certain action. You can use an injunction to prevent your spouse from destroying or moving marital property during or after the divorce.

For example, you can petition the court for an injunction if your ex is required to maintain the marital home until it can be sold, but isn’t keeping it up. If your ex is ruining the carpet and fresh paint job by failing to clean up after a pet or by throwing weekly parties, you can request an injunction to force your spouse to pick up after the pet and stop having parties. When a court issues an injunction, the offending party must obey it immediately.

In most states, an injunction will take effect as soon as your spouse is served with the order. Following issuance of the injunction, your spouse can contest it, and a judge will hold a hearing. You or your spouse can face penalties for violating an injunction. Penalties may include jail time, fines and/or responsibility for any attorneys' fees incurred in bringing the action. When in doubt, it’s best to follow the court’s orders.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • My divorce became final a few months ago, but my spouse still hasn’t transferred title to the property I was awarded in the divorce. Can I file a contempt action now or do I need to wait?
  • My spouse and I agreed to trade some of the property we were each awarded under the divorce order. I was awarded the TV, but agreed to give it to him in exchange for the dining room table. I already turned over the TV but now he’s backing out of our agreement. Do I have any recourse?
  • My spouse is required to pay the mortgage on the marital home for the next three years. She’s already behind on payments, and I’m worried it will affect my credit. What can I do?

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