What Are the Punishments/Penalties if Someone Violates a Utah Divorce Decree?

I’m sure this will come as a shock, but sometimes, just sometimes, people don’t follow their divorce decrees.

The most common violations we see are:

(1) not paying child support (the most popular violation),

(2) withholding parent-time (a close second),

(3) not paying alimony, and

(4) not following the right of first refusal.

The Punishments/Penalties for Violating a Decree

Holding someone accountable for violating their decree requires going to court.

First, you have to file a motion for contempt (proper name is order to show cause). In the order to show cause, you lay out what your divorce decree said, and how your ex violated the decree. (Hint: you have to be really specific about the violations, otherwise the commissioner won’t find contempt.)

Second, you have to tell the court what kind of punishment/penalties you want the court to impose on your ex. Here is the list of punishments/penalties we put in our orders to show cause (I’ve included all the language we use in case you want to use it in a do-it-yourself order to show cause):

Because Petitioner/Respondent committed contempt, sanctions are appropriate and necessary as authorized by Utah law. Utah Code Ann. §§ 30-3-3(2); 78B-6-310; 78B-6-311(1); 78B-6-312; 78B-6-315-16.

Specifically, the Court should/must impose all of the following contempt sanctions:

  1. Petitioner/Respondent pay all reasonable costs and attorney fees necessitated by having to bring this matter to the Court. Utah Code Ann. § 30-3-3(2). A Sworn Declaration Regarding Attorney Costs and Fees was filed previously.
  1. Petitioner/Respondent pay a fine — in addition to any costs and attorney fees awarded — of $1000. Utah Code Ann. § 78B-6-310.
  1. Petitioner/Respondent be incarcerated in county jail for thirty consecutive days. Utah Code Ann. § 78B-6-310.
  2. Petitioner/Respondent pay Petitioner/Respondent a sum of money sufficient to indemnify and satisfy Petitioner’s/Respondent’s costs and expenses necessitated by having to bring this matter to the Court, as well as post-Judgment interest. Utah Code Ann. § 78B-6-311(1). A Sworn Declaration Regarding Attorney Costs and Fees was filed previously.
  3. Petitioner/Respondent be imprisoned until he/she XXXX (describe the act Petitioner/Respondent is obligated to perform), or is released by the Court. Utah Code Ann. § 78B-6-312.
  4. Petitioner’s/Respondent’s driver’s license, be suspended or restricted until all Judgments, Orders, and other sanctions are satisfied. Utah Code Ann. § 78B-6-315(4). (Applies to non-payment of child support, housing, medical care, and other remedial care for child)
  5. Petitioner’s/Respondent’s professional and occupational license(s), be suspended or restricted until all Judgments, Orders, and other sanctions are satisfied. Utah Code Ann. § 78B-6-315(4). (Applies to non-payment of child support, housing, medical care, and other remedial care for child)
  6. Petitioner’s/Respondent’s recreational license(s), be suspended or restricted until all Judgments, Orders, and other sanctions are satisfied. Utah Code Ann. § 78B-6-315(4). (Applies to non-payment of child support, housing, medical care, and other remedial care for child)
  7. Petitioner/Respondent, at his/her cost, (1) perform at least ten hours of compensatory service, and (2) participate in workshops, classes, or individual counseling designed to educate Petitioner/Respondent about the importance of complying with the Court’s Orders and providing Minor Child(ren) with a continuing relationship with both parents. Utah Code Ann. § 78B-6-316(1), (4). (Applies when parent does not exercise minimum parent-time ordered in Decree/Order)
  8. Petitioner/Respondent, at his/her cost, (1) perform at least ten hours of compensatory service, and (2) participate in workshops, classes, or individual counseling designed to educate Petitioner/Respondent about the importance of complying with the Court’s Orders and providing Minor Child(ren) with a regular and stable source of support. Utah Code Ann. § 78B-6-316(5), (7). (Applies when parent does not pay child support)
  9. Petitioner/Respondent make all Ordered payments and satisfy all Judgments within fourteen days.

As you can see, there’s a pretty wide array of punishments: jail time, suspension of driver license, attorney fees, revocation of hunting license, suspension of professional license, and money fines.

Most Common Punishments/Penalties

The most common punishment/penalty for violating a divorce decree is having to pay attorney fees.

So, for example, say you don’t pay child support for a year. You rack up an arrearage (i.e., the amount you haven’t paid) of $5000. Your ex hires and attorney and files an order to show cause. If you’re found to have violated the decree by not paying child support, you’ll probably have to pay the $5000 plus your ex’s attorney fees.

After attorney fees, jail time is probably the most common penalty. Almost always, however, when a commissioner sentences someone to jail, they will give the person an out. What I mean is, they’ll impose jail for 10 days, then tell the person, “If you do X [e.g., pay your child support in full] within 30 days, I’ll lift the jail sentence.”

The other possible penalties are usually pretty rare, although we have good success in getting people to comply when we threaten to take away their driver license or professional license.

Moral of the Story: Follow Your Divorce Decree

In the end, please, follow your divorce decree. It makes post-divorce life so much better. And, honestly, your kids will thank you when they get older because they will not have gone through the conflict of parents constantly fighting, even after divorce.

And, please, don’t file an order to show cause unless you really have to (and, sometimes, you really have to). But, if you do, you now know the possible punishments/penalties available.

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