My Ex Isn’t Following Our Court Order, Now What?” A/K/A Deadbeat Spouse

By Mary Stearns-Montgomery |

You and your ex-spouse had a “dream” divorce.  There was no yelling, no name calling, no arguments regarding the kids, parenting plan or child support.  Heck, your Ex didn’t even have an issue refinancing the house and getting you off the mortgage and the deed.  Neither of you wanted alimony, but you sure did appreciate him/her offering to pay off that $10,000.00 credit card bill in your name that you both ran up during the marriage.  Things went so smoothly, you never even thought about getting an attorney.  You and your Ex went to the court’s website, printed and filled out the paperwork and filed it.  A couple of months later, your divorce was finalized, and the Judge signed an order incorporating your “filled in” Settlement Agreement, including the paragraph about the credit card bill.  Ah, SWEET FREEDOM!

 It’s been a year (or two) and you’re finally ready to get that new house, car or furniture you’ve been waiting for.  The finance guy comes back into the office… “Mr./Mrs. Smith, I’m sorry but we can’t approve your mortgage (car loan, credit card application).  You’ve got a rather substantial delinquency on your credit report.”  Your eyes get big as you scan over the credit report the finance department just pulled on you.  You lose your breath and shout, “That’s impossible!  The only credit card I ever had…” Your voice fades out when you realize that your oh so helpful ex-spouse hasn’t paid the credit card bill for several months.  You knew he/she had some recent financial issues, but since they hadn’t brought it up, you assumed the credit card bill was still being timely paid.  You call your Ex and question them about the credit card payments.  “Sorry, I have other more important bills to pay right now,” they say.  They go on to add, “I gave the credit card company your information so you can deal with them directly.”  You hang up the phone in shock and ask yourself,   “Now what am I going to do?!”

The family law attorneys at Stearns-Montgomery & Proctor deal with these types of situations on a regular basis.  Your remedy for relief would be a Motion for Contempt against your Ex, usually filed in the county where the actual divorce took place.  Contempt is defined by Georgia Divorce, Alimony and Child Custody as “a ‘willful’ refusal to comply with a judgment or order of the court.  In other words, once the Judge in your case signed the Order, both you and your ex-spouse became legally obligated to comply with the terms set out in the Settlement Agreement you signed.  A contempt action can apply to an action (or inaction) of your Ex, including, but certainly not limited to visitation or parenting issues, or to monetary issues like the non-payment of alimony, child support, and yes, even that pesky credit card bill.

 O.C.G.A. §19-6-28(a) states that the Court has “the power to punish the respondent who violates any order of the court…”  Once one of our caring family law attorneys has tried to settle the matter with your Ex outside of court, if the matter remains unresolved, the more aggressive action of filing a Motion for Contempt can be pursued.  Millner v. Millner, 260 Ga. 495 (1990), Killingsworth v. Killingsworth, 286 Ga. 234 (2009), Paisley v. Huddlestun, 244 Ga. 418 (1979), and Beach v. Beach, 224 Ga. 701 (1968) all deal with various types of contempt actions.  Some examples of contempt from these cases are:  non-payment of bills or marital debt, failure to pay gift tax liability, failure to pay equity due to the other party from the marital home, and failure to pay attorney fees.

 Additionally, there may be other questions regarding the credit card you need addressed.  For example, “Will the credit card company honor our divorce decree?”, “What do I do if the credit card company sues me when my Ex is responsible for paying the bill?”, or “I went ahead and paid off the credit card myself, does that mean my Ex is off the hook?” Stearns-Montgomery & Proctor  has attorneys in our offices that can help you answer all of these questions, give you legal advice on how to deal with a credit card company or a 3rd party collection agency, and any other issues which may arise if your Ex isn’t holding up their end of the divorce decree. 

 Special thanks to Atlanta Family Law Attorney Janné Y. McKamey for her contributions to this article.  If you have questions about what to do when your ex-spouse doesn’t pay those marital debts as ordered to by the court, contact Ms. McKamey today about your case.  770-426-1148