A friend approached me over the weekend with a question regarding whether she should use the court system to enforce her recently-entered order of child support. The order requires that daycare expenses be shared between the parties. However, when she went to her ex-husband to obtain his portion, he said he “already pays enough, and she should be able to cover the costs out of that.” His response directly contradicts the language of the order. That said, it wasn’t clear based on the information she provided whether it would be in her best interest to obtain a lawyer and start litigation. There are a few things I encouraged her to consider before rushing to litigate:
- How much money does the other party owe you? Prior to engaging in litigation, a party(hopefully with the help of a qualified attorney) should do a cost versus benefit analysis. How much will it cost you to litigate this dispute? How much do you stand to gain? As attorneys, we sometimes have to advise our clients not to litigate even if we know their likelihood of winning is high, if the amount they stand to recover will be less than the resources expended in pursuing the case.
- Can I have someone else pursue this on my behalf? The Division of Child Support (a division of DSHS) has the ability to assist families in need of child support services with establishment or enforcement of an order of child support. In many cases, family law attorneys encourage potential clients to seek remedies through DCS. It is important to remember that although your interests may coincide with that of DCS, DCS will not be your personal attorney.
- Are there any non-pecuniary benefits of pursuing litigation? In some cases, it is worthwhile to pursue the misdoing of the opposing party to increase the likelihood that court orders are followed in the future. If you think letting something slide is likely to encourage the other parent to continually push limits and lose respect for you and the court orders, it might be worth it (as long as your attorney feels confident the court will not deem your action frivolous) to enforce the order to establish an understanding that failing to follow court orders will not be accepted.
- Are you following the order? Be prepared that if you seek to have an order enforced against the other party, the court is likely to also enforce it against you. This means that if you are seeking to enforce the proportional share of daycare provision of the order, the court may look to see that you are complying with your obligations as well (e.g. that you provide receipts, share other costs or communicate such requests in writing).
Please contact us if you have questions regarding the enforcement of a child support order or other family law order.