Question: I have just gotten a divorce and my exhusband is ordered to pay back money he took from our savings account when we seperated. He says that he does not have the money and will have to make payments. He was awarded our personal property which is paid off. Can I put a lien on this title? He says he is building a home is there any other way of ensuring that I will get my money returned?
Answer: You have at least two alternatives, assuming that informal efforts to work things out collapse. First, you can file a motion for sanctions and civil contempt under Family Law Rules 92-94. You should read all three very carefully, especially Rule 92, which will explain how to kick off the process.
In reviewing these provisions, you will discover that the trial judge has a wide range of alternatives at her disposal to enforce the original divorce decree. These options include jail time, seizure of property, attorney's fees, costs, and compensatory or coercive fines. In fact, the judge can issue a civil arrest warrant if your ex-husband fails to appear for the proceeding after fair notice. If your divorce decree resulted from a signed property settlement, then (depending on the language of the agreement) you may also be able to file a separate, civil lawsuit for breach of contract. Where you file the action (i.e. small claims vs. superior court), and whether mandatory arbitration rules apply, will depend on the amount of money owed. This can be a costly, time-consuming process, and I you have to ask yourself whether the possible benefit will outweigh what you could have done by applying to the family law judge for sanctions. It's up to you, but you may want to start with Option No. 1, and - as always - it never hurts to consult with either a family law attorney (for questions related to Rules 92-94) or a contract litigator (for questions about a civil suit).
June 26, 2007