Over the years, I've spoken to many women whose ex-husbands were defying court orders to pay child support. What most of them have learned when they take their ex back to court for contempt is that judges rarely throw a deadbeat in jail. They threaten to do so, but in my opinion, it isn't often that a judge will follow through on a threat.
Not enforcing a court order undermines a woman's ability to care for her children. For some reason though, a judge seems more concerned with how being jailed will negatively affect a deadbeat father. It isn't only child support orders that aren't enforced — in the Family Court System, it's any order.
In September of 2004, my former husband and I finally went back to court on the post-majority expense issue and another issue having to do with housing. My ex was ordered to pay 93% of our son's college expenses. He angered the judge by behaving arrogantly so the judge retaliated by slamming him with 93% of the expenses. However, with grants and scholarships my former husband would have only had to pay a couple of thousand dollars a year. It wasn't like the man was going to go broke helping his son with college expenses.
The judge also ordered him to follow through on the agreement he had made with me for housing dating back to September of 1999. The judge did something that I thought was very odd. He read into the court record what he had ordered and then he told both lawyers to get together and come to an agreement on how the order would be worded. Once the lawyers had come to an agreement, the judge would write the order and sign it.
My lawyer immediately contacted my ex-husband's lawyer trying to come to an agreement on the wording. That wasn't an easy task. When a man has been ordered to pay and do things he doesn't want to do, his lawyer will drag his feet because the last thing he wants is an order signed by a judge.
I had a son in college who wasn't getting any help from his father with his expenses and the housing issue was hanging over my head. I was constantly stressed over not knowing from one day to the next, if I was going to lose my home. Nine months later, I was still stressed out.
Finally, after motions by my lawyer and threats from the judge, we had an agreement on the wording. In July 2005, the judge signed an order, nearly nine months to the day after we had gone to court. It was an order that my former husband never had any intention of following in the first place.
Shortly after leaving the marriage, my ex developed a sense of entitlement. Having children to care for emotionally and financially no longer fit into his agenda. He did the least he could do as far as supporting them and obstinately refused to do more even though it had been court-ordered. What he has done to them emotionally would cause the hair on the back of your neck to stand up.
He scoffed at the July 2005 court order just as he had all the other court orders. He was court-ordered to sign mortgage documents on a substitute home for his children. Instead, he went out within days of getting the order and signed mortgage documents for a home he was building for himself. It was a blatant snub and he got away with it.
I took him back to court for contempt of court...once again. The judge yelled at him and threatened to throw him and his lawyer in jail that day. The judge ruled from the bench in February of 2006 telling my ex that he had 60 days to comply with the original decree of divorce, which had been written in September 1999 or he would go to jail.
My ex never saw the inside of a jail and never will because judges don't enforce court orders. To hell with those annoying written laws, the laws that mandate a judge punish someone for defying court orders. It's those unwritten laws that determine what really happens when defiance occurs and nine times out of ten, nothing happens.
Cathy Meyer is the head of About.com's Divorce Support channel. To hear more from Cathy, go to: divorcesupport.about.com.