Mom and Dad get a divorce. Things go okay. A few years later they decide we can make some changes. Dad gets a little more time, Mom “agrees” to a little less money…
The Court process takes too long. Attorneys cost too much. Plus, Mom and Dad agreed! They switch to a week-on, week-off custody arrangement. The kids are older, it works. Dad starts paying support directly for the benefit of the kids. He pays for the child’s car and insurance, and picks up health insurance which was previously mom’s responsibility. Dad does not pay mom directly. It’s about the same money, probably. What could go wrong?
Court Orders may only be modified by other Court Orders. Once an Order is issued and in place the parties are bound to follow it. This is so ironclad that the Court has a mechanism in place to enforce its Orders that can result in the breaching party having to pay fines and/or go to jail. This process is called Contempt. If you are not following the Order in your case, you are subject to a Contempt Petition being filed by the other party.
But if we agreed what’s the big deal? The big deal is that the new Agreement is not worth the paper it’s not written on, if not approved by the Judge.
At some point in the future, and it never fails, Mom and Dad have a falling out, again. Mom goes to an attorney and tells him that Dad has not paid child support in two years. Mom sues Dad for Contempt for all of the “back” support and then “un-agrees” to the custody change and goes back to an every other weekend schedule for visitation. Dad counter sues for a custody modification seeking custody now due to mom’s change and contempt over the health insurance issue. The only sure thing now is that each may well be in contempt and the Court is left to sort it out.
If you modify your Order/Agreement do it in writing, signed and approved by the Court. It’s the only way to guaranty that the Agreement is enforceable and for protection from being subject to Contempt for not doing what was in the prior Order.
Matthew Thompson is a Family Law Attorney in Mississippi that handles Modification of Custody and Contempt actions for failure to pay child support and reminds you to pay your support early, often and keep good records!
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(601) 850-8000 or Matthew@bowtielawyer.ms