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Can I Go to Jail for Failing to Comply With the Terms of My Divorce Settlement?

Divorce cases involving disputes over the division of marital property can get quite heated. For many Galveston-area couples, it is not so much about the money or the property itself as it is not letting the other spouse “win.” Such emotionally driven decisions often serve to drag out an already lengthy process. And in the heat of the battle, some people forget they are still dealing with a legal system that requires everyone to follow certain rules–or face the consequences.

Court Affirms Contempt Finding After Ex-Husband Waits 3 Years to Turn Over Property to Ex-Wife

Consider the fact that once a Galveston judge issues a final divorce decree, any incorporated marital property division is not a formal judgment that both sides must comply with. To put it another way, if the judge orders you to turn over certain assets to your now-former spouse, that is not a request. It is an order. And if you disobey that order, you can be held in contempt of court and possibly sent to jail.

If you don’t think that can happen, consider this recent Texas divorce case. The couple in this case were legally divorced in 2012. At that time the judge entered an order diving the couple’s marital property. Among other provisions, the judge ordered the husband to turn over 50 percent of the after-tax proceeds from the deferred compensation he received from his employer. This included giving his ex-wife copies of all documents related to the deferred compensation within a certain time frame.

More than three years later, the wife returned to court and filed a motion seeking enforcement of the judgment on this issue. Apparently, the husband never complied with the court’s orders. Ultimately, the court found the husband committed 45 violations of its prior orders. Consequently, he was held in contempt of court and ordered to spend 15 days in jail for each violation–to be served concurrently–unless he complied.

The husband turned over the property at this point. But he also asked a Texas appeals court to quash the contempt order. The higher court declined to do so. The appeals judges were not persuaded by the husband’s defense for his earlier non-compliance, which basically came down to, “I didn’t understand the judge’s order.”

Specifically, the husband said the 2013 division of property order was “ambiguous” as to the calculation of tax rates on his deferred compensation. But as the appeals court pointed out, the husband never raised this point in the three years that elapsed between the court’s order and his ex-wife filing her contempt motion. More to the point, the appeals court said the order was never ambiguous. Both sides proposed different methods for calculating the tax, and the judge simply sided with the wife. The husband may have disagreed with the outcome, but that did not make the judge’s decision “ambiguous.”

Consult With a Galveston Divorce Lawyer Today

In any contested Galveston divorce case, each spouse has the right to present evidence regarding the division of property and have a judge resolve any disagreements. But once the judge resolves those issues, barring an appellate court’s intervention, the order is final and binding on both parties. This is why it is critical to start working with an experienced Galveston divorce attorney early in the process, so you can identify any potential property issues and address them in a timely manner. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates at (281) 280-0100 to speak with a qualified divorce lawyer about your case today.