Court orders tell litigants how to behave and proceed in family law cases. Consequences follow for people who choose not to follow court orders. Some consequences are worse than others though. What happens when parties agree to not follow all the provisions of a court order?
Court Orders with Flexible Terms
Some provisions in typical family court orders allow for agreements without having to come back to court. For example, there is room for agreements outside the court order when it comes to visitation. The typical language sets forth very specific times and days for visitation with the children. That section takes several pages of text in a normal court order.
However, before those pages of instructions for visitation, there is a simple two-line statement that allows for agreements outside of the court order. That simple two-line statement says that visitation is any time the parents agree in advance. How simple is that? When the parents agree to switch a weekend, they are free to do so. Likewise, if the parents want to swap a Wednesday for a Thursday visit, it’s easy. No court date required. Agreements on visitation are fine.
Court Orders with No Flexibility
Unless a provision has flexibility built into it, agreements outside of the court’s order can be dangerous. The most extreme example is child support. The parents should follow the order precisely when it comes to child support. Agreements outside the court order can lead to huge debt and even jail time.
Recently in court, we witnessed a terrible situation. A mother and father who never married were in court for a child support enforcement. According to testimony, the man and woman had a one-night stand almost 18 years ago and conceived a baby, now about to turn 18. At that time the mother got an order from the court for the dad to pay child support. However, the mother assured him she would never seek payment of child support from him if he never tried to see the child. He never did, but now the mother got a judgement against him for 18 years of back owed support! They made an agreement outside the court order, and now the dad is in deep trouble.
This seems terribly unfair on one hand because they agreed fair and square, but the order was clear. The dad was ordered to pay child support. He and the mom made an agreement outside of the court order, and now he is facing thousands of dollars of child support.
An enforcement action seeks to show the judge that one party failed to follow the court’s order somehow. Enforcements are how family courts hold people accountable for following orders. Sadly, the words printed on the court’s order trump verbal agreements made outside the court order. Attorneys fees, make-up visitation time for missed visits, and other consequences for failing to follow the court’s order can be handed down at an enforcement hearing. In the case of unpaid child support, jail time can also be a punishment.
We recommend following the court’s order . If the order allows for agreement, then feel free to agree to terms outside the order. However, if the order is specific about what is expected from you, follow the order.
If the circumstances in your situation have changed so much the order no longer makes sense, a modification of the order is the proper way to fix it. Choosing not to follow the order is dangerous territory, so changing the order is safer. If you are unsure if the order should be changed, or if an agreement outside the court order will suffice, consult an experienced family law firm.
Youngblood Law, PLLC is a Fort Worth, Texas family law firm focusing on helping people get on with their new life by getting done with their old life. This essay is intended for educational use only and is not a replacement for competent legal counsel. If you are facing a family law matter, we recommend obtaining competent legal counsel like Youngblood Law, PLLC. For more information contact us at (817) 601-5345, find us on the web at youngblood-law.com.