What is the process for taking my ex to court for failing to remove my name from the house that was awarded to him in our divorce?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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If the court awarded him the house, then there would be a court order to that effect. When someone violates a court order, you can take them back to court via a “motion” in which you ask the court to hold them in “contempt” (fine and/or jail them) for ignoring the court order. The court can punish your spouse if he will not comply with the order. The motion would be filed using the name and docket or case number of the original divorce case and made in family court.

Often, winning in court is only half the battle; the rest is making sure that the other side (in this case, your ex-spouse, or simply “ex” as we will call him) actually complies with what he was ordered to do. The other party does not always voluntarily do what they are supposed to. Fortunately, there is a mechanism or procedure to compel people to obey court orders.

If the house was awarded to your now-ex-husband in the divorce, there is a court order which either explicitly states that he has to cooperate in removing your name from the house, or at least (if the order was not written as clearly as might have been) implicitly requires that, as a necessary condition of giving him sole ownership of the house, the house can’t be his alone unless your name is removed from title. The process to compel him to do this is to file a motion to hold him in “contempt” of court for not obeying the court’s order.

Courts have an inherent—or built-in—power to enforce their orders by punishing people who do not comply with them. This is called the “contempt” power (you can remember it this way: the court has “contempt” for anyone who does not respect it and its authority). This punishment can be a fine, or going to jail, or both. Generally, the punishment continues until the person obeys the court. He might pay a fine each day until he complies, or he might stay in jail until he agrees to obey the order. (Typically, a fine is more common than jail, but the court does have the power to order jail.)

You go to the same court that issued the order, presumably, your local family court. You make a “motion” to the court in the same case; that is, using the same docket or case number and case name as your divorce case had. “Motion” is just a legal term for officially or formally asking the court to do something. You (or your lawyer, if you retain one) ask the court in writing to punish your ex-spouse. You (or your lawyer) may have to also argue the motion in front of the judge (called “oral arguments”) to help convince him or her to do what you want. The court will let you know if oral arguments are required.

When you make the motion, you send one set of papers to the court; you send another set to your ex, who has to be given “notice” (i.e., a warning) of what is happening and a chance to respond. There are rules for how you submit the motion, how much time you have to give the other side to respond to it, etc. Every state has its own court rules and procedures. (This is why, ideally, you should retain an attorney and let the lawyer, who understands these rules, bring the motion for you.) But if choose to handle your case yourself, look up your state’s court rules online and also ask the court clerk’s office for instructions and/or sample forms.

If the court agrees with you—that your ex has been violating the terms of the order—it can order that he is punished until he begins complying with what he should have been doing all along.

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