Contempt of court is serious. A judge can fine you, make you pay attorney’s fees for the other side, or even send you to jail for not obeying an order. Feel tempted not to do what the judge ordered because things have changed since he ruled on the matter? Bad idea. You are legally bound to follow his decree until he officially orders otherwise.

If you feel the court’s order is unfair under the circumstances, there are a few things you ought to consider before doing anything different.

Is the judge’s order unreasonable or just inconvenient?

Do you think your ex’s visitation times should be changed because she has moved so far away that it is harder to transport the children, or is it genuinely an impossible situation? If, for instance, your spouse’s move causes you to travel a few extra hours to visit your kids, you’d better reconcile yourself to putting in the miles until you can get back into court. If, however, the move means you must miss work to do your end of the driving because the other parent has moved 10 hours away, you will probably be forgiven for not following the current order to the letter.

If you are in this type of situation, talk to the other parent about making different visitation arrangements until you can get into court. You can try working something out that relieves the visits’ frequency or makes the driving less onerous. Some people meet halfway, or if the kids are old enough, then consider public transportation. If you and her can talk logically about the situation, you may change the court’s order by agreement.

Is your concern based on provable facts?

Too often, I have had clients who were ready to spend the money and time to go to court to address something, “my neighbor said,” or “my kids told me”. Before you act on what someone said, investigate. Talk to your ex if the neighbor says your kids are out all hours of the night without supervision. Make sure the beating your 12-year-old reports her little brother got was real. Check him for bruises.

You have a history with the other parent and know whether he is prone to be abusive. Let your common sense be your guide before you involve the court in your children’s lives.

Is the situation temporary?

Before you spend the money trying to get your child support lowered, decide if your financial woes are of short duration or if you are in for a long haul.

If you lost your job but have plenty of savings or unemployment compensation, you may do well to wait before bringing your situation to a judge. If you have been out of work for a few months but have been diligently looking for new employment, the court will be a lot more sympathetic than if you want to lower your child support at the first threat of a layoff.

Again, a conversation with your ex about the situation could go a long way towards temporarily easing your stress. Maybe she would consider taking a cut until your finances improve. You could agree to make up the difference later when you have more money and have a better idea of your future finances.

Going to court is always an option – have the conversation first.

Get Agreements in Writing

Before you rely on any conversations with your ex, make sure your agreement is in writing. If you show up in court with a verbal agreement, the judge is not likely to be impressed. Your ex could deny that any agreement had ever been reached, and the court would have to base its contempt decision on whether you had technically breached its previous order.

If you reach an agreement, make sure you both sign it and leave space for a judge’s signature. You will want to get the judge to approve it and have it filed for full legal protection. This is something you can do on your own, but of course an attorney can help you if needed.

Chad Foster is a trusted family law and divorce lawyer serving Snohomish and King counties with an office in Bothell. Contact us today to discuss your legal issue.

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