My Ex Won't Pay The Bills as Ordered! What Can I Do?!?

As we explained in an earlier post, oftentimes after a divorce one spouse stops paying the bills he/she is supposed to pay under the marital settlement agreement or divorce decree.  Maybe the person fell on hard times and lost a job, maybe they had health problems or maybe they are just a jerk.  [Incidentally, that link will take to the IMDB page for one of my favorite movies of all time and easily the most-quoted movie in my house by every member of my family.  If you are going through the issue we're discussing in this post, rent that movie.  It will at least make you laugh and forget about your troubles for a little while.  Now, back to the law stuff]
Hopefully, your agreement or decree has an indemnification and hold harmless provision.  Stop what you are doing and check this right now.  It should say that one spouse assumes the debt and shall "indemnify and hold [the other spouse] harmless for same" or something similar.  If your agreement says that, it will make it easier for you to pursue legal remedies against the defaulting party.

Your first avenue is through the divorce court.  This is also probably your easiest and most efficient remedy as well.  You can file a motion for rule to show cause.  We talked about this a little bit in our discussion on remedies for when a spouse refuses to pay child support.  The same idea applies here, especially if the hold harmless and indemnification language is included in your paperwork.  The judge can punish the defaulting party through the court's contempt powers which could include jail time of up six months.  I have also had judges rely on the indemnification and hold harmless clause to  force the defaulting spouse to sell property if the debt is secured to pay off the debt and even pay damages to the non-defaulting party if there is proof that the innocent party's credit has been damaged.

A hold harmless and indemnification clause could also open the door for you to file a separate civil suit against the defaulting spouse as well.  While I have pursued these types of claims in the past, the rewards are not usually that much greater than what can be achieved through a contempt action in family court.  Besides, even if you can get a civil judgment against someone outside of the divorce, they already are not paying at least one bill which means it will be just that much harder to get them to pay another judgment.

Additional issues may arise if the defaulting party eventually files for bankruptcy as well.  We will discuss those problems in a separate post.  Suffice it to say, it can get very challenging when you have an ex who ignores their court-ordered obligation.  If you have more questions, please contact us at the Alford Law Office.

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