Enforcing the Temporary Order

February 19, 2014 § Leave a comment

Does entry of a final judgment of divorce eliminate the possibility of an action to collect unpaid amounts due under a temporary order?

It’s not uncommon to be getting your waterfowl in a row for final hearing next week only to learn from your client for the first time that her husband owes her a couple of thou in child support or house payments or temporary alimony, and that news is followed by the query ” … and what are you going to do about it?”

So … what are you going to do about it?

In the COA case of O’Brien v. O’Brien, handed down February 11, 2014, Judge Griffis addressed the appellant’s argument that it was improper for the chancellor to find him in contempt of the temporary order after the final judgment of divorce was entered:

¶10. Mississippi Code Annotated section 93-5-17(2) (Rev. 2013) provides that a chancellor may “hear complaints for temporary alimony, temporary custody of children and temporary child support and make all proper orders and judgments thereon.” Further, this Court may allow retroactive awards of temporary support even after a divorce judgment is entered. Strong v. Strong, 981 So. 2d 1052, 1055 (¶15) (Miss. Ct. App. 2008). Temporary support ends when a final judgment is entered. Bond v. Bond, 355 So. 2d 672, 674-675 (Miss. 1991). However, a payor still has a duty to pay past-due temporary support, as a final decree of divorce does not preclude a chancellor from entering a judgment for arrearages of temporary support without having to express the right to enforce the judgment in the final divorce decree. Lewis v. Lewis, 586 So. 2d 740, 742 (Miss. 1991).

You have several ways to approach enforcement of temporary orders:

  • You can wait until the final judgment is entered and file a contempt action. Fair warning: bring your authority (e.g., the above paragraph) with you to court because I have had chancellors question the viability of such actions when I practiced.
  • With enough advance warning you can file a contempt action during the pendency of the divorce and ask that it be heard in advance of the final hearing.
  • Many lawyers will agree to combine temporary contempt issues with the final hearing. That is often done in this district. You can do that by pleading, of course, or by stipulation or agreed order, or it can be listed as a contested issue in a consent.

The main thing to remember is that amounts that were ordered to be paid under a temporary order are vested when due, and the right to collect them does not terminate on entry of the final judgment, even though the final judgment does terminate the temporary order itself. And it is not necessary for the final judgment of divorce to recite or provide for a right of future enforcement of the temporary order.

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