You just caught your breath from your divorce litigation, the house is sold, custody has been decided, the investment accounts have been divided, you have just removed your attorney from your speed dial and the fighting has stopped–or has it?
So now what? The divorce has been over for some time, but there are still outstanding issues you would like resolved between you and your ex-spouse, but you really do not know if you are prepared emotionally and financially to invest more time into litigating additional issues.
Many individuals find themselves in this place a couple years out from their final divorce decree. Maybe a child is getting ready to attend college and you have a feeling that your ex-spouse is not going to live up to their end of the agreed upon payment allocation. The parent who has custody of the children has decided to relocate the children to another state. Or maybe it is even something smaller – should you pay to fight your former husband/wife because they have not provided you with updated life insurance information to cover your support payments?
What are the best steps to weigh the decision to litigate additional issues that may arise after the final divorce decree is signed?
My best piece of advice is to meet with an attorney when you first identify a possible post-judgment issue. Don’t wait until your ex-spouse has missed nine straight weeks of support. When you see a pattern developing, reach out to an experienced attorney for advice. At this initial meeting, your attorney will be able to spell out the advantages and disadvantages both financially and time-wise in litigating the matter to a final result. At this point, you will have a better understanding of your rights and can make an informed decision whether or not to move on with a filing.
Make sure your attorney gives you a possible range of a budget that you can expect the entire motion and any necessary additional court appearances will cost you before making the decision to go forward. If your attorney skirts the issue of providing a budget to you, you may not want to hire that person. Most attorneys can give you a reasonable budget estimate of the costs to address and resolve your post-divorce judgment issue.
I state this because the costs involved in the filing of a motion to enforce the provision of a divorce settlement agreement which requires the other party to pay support or alimony by a certain date will be cheaper to resolve than a motion for permission to relocate to another state with the children where it might be necessary to hire custody experts. Also, the filing of a motion may truly be cost-prohibitive in connection to the relief you are requesting. For example, if your former spouse owes you $750.00 in past child support arrears, it does not make financial sense to spend $3,500.00 in counsel fees to track this money down. I often advise my clients to hold off on the possible filing until the “ends justify the means”.
The second and often more important concern is the issue of time. Your attorney should be able to give you a fairly accurate estimate as to the amount of time it will take your issue to be resolved from the filing of the initial application to its ultimate resolution. Do you and your family have the emotional strength and patience to move forward with a litigation that may take many months to decide?
Sometimes the timing and expense estimates will need to be modified as your case progresses. For example, your post-judgment motion might be one you believe could be easily decided by the Court on motion day but instead of issuing an order resolving the issue, the Court would like further disclosure of information from the parties before rendering a decision so it instead issues a discovery order and reschedules a court date three months from the initial court date. Also, you have opened up the door to your former spouse to make a claim against you. Make sure you have been compliant with your obligations under your agreement. You have be prepared both financially and emotionally to be able to adapt to these modifications and weigh the possibility of these modifications with your attorney when making the decision to bring your post-divorce judgment application. As always, make sure to contact an attorney that focuses their practice in matrimonial law to fully weigh your options.