Enforcing a Utah Court Order/Utah Divorce Decree: The Basics

Let’s say you went through a divorce in Utah.

At the end of that process, the judge signed a divorce decree.

A divorce decree in Utah is really just a court order telling you how things work in your divorce. It covers what you’ll do with your assets and debt, your retirement, your kids, everything.

And when you have a decree, the assumption is both of you will follow the decree.

What Happens if Someone Doesn’t Follow the Decree? 

If someone doesn’t follow the decree, then you have to enforce the decree.

Here are some basics about enforcing a divorce decree in Utah:

  1. Enforcing the decree means you have to go back to court.

Enforcing a decree is not a criminal matter, so you can’t go to the cops about it. You have to go back to the court where you divorced and explain to that court how your ex violated the decree and what punishment that deserves.

  1. You start enforcing a decree by filing an order to show cause (i.e., a motion for contempt).

To start enforcing a divorce decree you have to file a document with the court. That document is called an order to show cause, which is really a motion for contempt (more on contempt in a second).

An order to show cause sets out how someone violated a decree and what the punishments for that should be. The “how” needs to be specific and needs to be backed up by as much evidence as possible because your ex will have a chance to respond.

  1. If the court finds someone violated the decree, that person is found to be “in contempt of court.”

Lawyers and judges speak a different language than normal human beings. When enforcing a divorce decree, we don’t say someone who violated the decree is “guilty”; instead, we say that person “violated the decree” and is “in contempt.”

The reason for this is “guilty” refers to having committed a criminal offense. Since violating a decree is a civil, not criminal, matter, we use a completely different set of legal jargon.

  1. You need prove three things to have someone held in contempt of court.

For someone to be held in contempt, you’ll need to prove by clear and convincing evidence that your ex: (1) knew what was required under the Order, (2) had the ability to comply with the Order, and (3)willfully and knowingly failed or refused to comply with the Order.

These requirements make sense. For example, if your decree is so poorly written neither of you know what your responsibilities are, then it’s not fair to hold either of you in contempt for violating something you couldn’t understand.

(Another note about language. “Clear and convincing evidence” is a very high standard of proof in the law. In fact, it’s the highest standard of proof in civil law. Essentially, it means you need produce so much proof that the judge is convinced about each of the three things above.)

  1. There are lots of punishments for violating a Utah divorce decree.

In another post, we laid out all of the possible punishments for violating a divorce decree. Here are the most common punishments:

  1. Being forced to pay attorney fees to the person enforcing the order.
  1. Having to give someone make-up parent-time.
  1. Community Service.
  1. Jail time.

By far the most common punishment is paying the other person’s attorney fees. Jail happens every so often, but usually only when someone hasn’t paid child support or alimony for some time.

And while it’s not a punishment, if someone’s before the court because he didn’t do something (e.g., sign a quit claim deed to a house), the court will very often order that thing to be done within a certain number of days. If it’s not done by then, actual punishment ensues.


Those are the basics. Like everything in the law, there’s a lot more to know and explore. For more about enforcing court orders, you can read thisthis, and this.

Published On: June 17th, 2017Categories: Enforcing Court OrdersComments Off on Enforcing a Utah Court Order/Utah Divorce Decree: The Basics
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About the Author: Marco Brown
Marco C. Brown was named Utah’s Outstanding Family Law Lawyer of the Year in 2015. He graduated with distinction from the University of Nebraska College of Law in 2007 and is currently the managing partner of Brown Family Law, LLC.
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