After a divorce or a Suit Affecting Parent-Child Relationship (SAPCR), you may be left with a court order that includes provisions for child possession and access. This order is intended to be a guide for both parents to follow, but sometimes the other parent may not be willing to comply.

One common violation of family law court orders is denying visitation. If this happens to you, you may be tempted to contact the police for help, but they will likely tell you that you need to talk to a lawyer.

In Texas, the legal proceeding you need to initiate is called an enforcement action. During your initial consultation, a lawyer will discuss the number of times the court order has been violated and how much time you have lost with your child. There is no magic number of violations before you can go to court, but there are some strategic decisions that need to be made. For example, it rarely makes financial sense to drag the other party through a lengthy court case for a single violation. Additionally, a judge is unlikely to hold the other party in contempt for one violation.

If you have been repeatedly denied visitation, the next step is to gather evidence of the violations. This includes documenting the date, time, and location of each denial, as well as whether there were any witnesses present.

Once you have gathered your evidence, you can file an enforcement action with the County District Court in which your children live. The other party will then be served with the action and required to appear before a judge.

In addition to enforcement, you may also want to request a modification of the court order, especially if the current visitation plan is not workable. In seeking enforcement and modification, you may ask the judge to change the visitation plan, increase your visitation, schedule and enforce additional visits, require the other party to pay your attorney’s fees, hold the other party in contempt, and/or change primary conservatorship.

Many people who are seeking enforcement actions relating to their divorces require legal assistance. The Law Offices of Richard C. McConathy helps clients all over Tarrant County with various kinds of enforcement actions.

Common Kinds of Enforceable Family Law Orders in Texas

The Supreme Court of Texas held in Ex Parte Slavin, 412 S.W.2d 43 (Tex. 1967), that it “is an accepted rule of law that for a person to be held in contempt for disobeying a court decree, the decree must spell out the details of compliance in clear, specific and unambiguous terms so that such person will readily know exactly what duties or obligations are imposed upon him.” The underlying reason for this rule is that the parties should not be punished for violating a court order if the order is not clear, specific, and unambiguous.

Some of the most common kinds of court orders that may be enforced in Texas include:

Court orders are official documents issued by the court in family law cases. They can be used to resolve both major and minor issues, such as child custody, support, and visitation rights, as well as the division of assets and debts, and property ownership.

Here are some common examples of non-compliance with different types of court orders:

  • Child custody and visitation orders: These orders outline where a child will live when the non-custodial parent can visit their child and other custody arrangements. For example, a non-custodial parent may deny the custodial parent visitation by refusing to drop off the child at the agreed-upon time or location.
  • Child support orders: These orders specify how much money a non-custodial parent must pay to support their child or children. For example, a non-custodial parent may fail to make child support payments, leaving the custodial parent struggling to meet their child’s basic needs.
  • Alimony or spousal maintenance orders: These orders indicate whether one party must provide financial support to the other after a divorce and how much money they must pay. For example, an ex-spouse may fail to pay alimony or spousal maintenance, leaving their former partner in financial hardship.
  • Property division orders: These orders decide how a couple’s assets and debts will be divided following a divorce. For example, an ex-spouse may refuse to divide property according to the court order, or they may hide or transfer assets to avoid sharing them with their former partner.

If your ex-spouse or co-parent has failed to follow a divorce decree or court order, you may be able to take legal action to enforce the order. The court has the power to punish those who violate court orders, including through fines, jail time, or other sanctions.

Motion For Contempt vs. Motion For Enforcement in Texas

When a spouse violates a court order, the other spouse must file a motion for contempt in the court that issued the original order. The motion must identify the portion of the order that was violated and the dates of all violations. Contempt violations may result in jail time and fines.

The Texas Family Code allows a motion for enforcement to be filed to enforce any provision of a temporary or final order issued in a lawsuit. The court can enforce any provision of a temporary or final order by contempt, and it can also enforce a temporary or final order for child support.

A motion for enforcement must contain the following information:

  • The provision of the order that was violated and that is being sought to be enforced.
  • How the respondent allegedly failed to comply with the order.
  • The relief requested by the movant (the person filing the motion).
  • The signature of the movant or their attorney.

If the motion is for enforcement of child support, it must also include the following information:

  • The amount of child support owed, the amount paid, and the number of missed payments.
  • If contempt is being requested, the portion of the order that was allegedly violated and, for each date of alleged contempt, the amount due and the amount paid (if any).
  • A copy of a record of child support payments maintained by the Title IV-D registry or a local registry may be attached to the motion.
  • If the obligor (the person who is supposed to pay child support) owes child support arrears for a child who is receiving assistance under Part A of Title IV of the federal Social Security Act, the motion may include a request that the obligor pay the arrears in accordance with a court-approved plan. If the obligor is already subject to a plan and is not incapacitated, the obligor must participate in work activities, as defined under 42 U.S.C. Section 607(d), that the court determines appropriate.

A motion for contempt for failure to comply with an order of possession and access must be filed within six months of a child becoming an adult or the termination of possession and access rights under the order or by operation of law.

A motion for contempt for failure to comply with a child support order must be filed within two years of a child becoming an adult or the termination of the child support obligation under the order or by operation of law.

Under Texas Family Code § 157.005(b), the court retains jurisdiction to confirm the total amount of child support arrearages and render a cumulative money judgment for past-due child support when a motion for enforcement requesting a cumulative money judgment is filed no later than 10 years after the date the child becomes an adult or on which the child support obligation terminates under the child support order or by operation of law.

Options for Resolving Enforcement Issues

Before going to court, it is important to explore mediation and other alternative dispute resolution methods. These methods can save time, money, and emotional stress. Collaborative approaches allow parties to work together to find common ground and reach mutually agreeable solutions. For example, in a custody dispute, parents could consider joint custody arrangements that prioritize the child’s well-being.

Hiring an experienced family law attorney is essential, not only for enforcement cases but across the spectrum of family law. Seasoned attorneys understand the intricacies of legal procedures and can provide informed guidance and assertive representation. Their expertise is particularly important in cases involving child custody, where emotions can run high.

The foundation of a strong family law case is compelling evidence. Whether you are dealing with an enforcement case or another family law matter, meticulous documentation is key. From keeping journals of visitation denials to collecting financial records, a well-prepared evidentiary arsenal can greatly bolster your case’s strength.

Types of evidence that can be used in family law cases include:

  • Documentation of missed visitations: This provides a clear record of violations.
  • Witness testimonies: This adds credibility and firsthand accounts.
  • Financial records: This supports claims of non-compliance with financial obligations.
  • Communication records: This demonstrates attempts to resolve issues amicably.
  • Photographs or videos: This provides visual evidence of violations or circumstances.
  • Expert opinions: This includes professional insights on child welfare or financial matters.
  • Journals or logs: This provides a chronological account of events and denials.
  • School or medical records: This establishes patterns of involvement and responsibilities.
  • Text messages or emails: This provides digital correspondence reflecting discussions and agreements

Filing an Enforcement Motion

The first step in enforcing a court order is to file a motion for enforcement. This document should include the following information:

  • A specific reference to the original order: This means citing the exact provisions of the original order that have been violated.
  • A detailed account of the violations: This means describing each instance of the alleged violation in detail, including the date, time, and nature of each breach.
  • A request for relief: This means clearly stating the relief or remedy that you are seeking, such as financial compensation, a modification of the original order, or other forms of relief.
  • Notices: This means including any necessary notices, such as the respondent’s right to a hearing.

Enforcement Hearings

Both parties will attend a court hearing before a family court judge during which the judge will review the pleadings, hear both parties’ testimony and arguments, and render a decision. Here’s an overview of the process:


The hearing begins with the court establishing the identities of the parties involved, the nature of the enforcement action, and a brief overview of the original order that is allegedly being violated.

Presentation by the Movant

The party seeking enforcement (movant) presents their case first. Evidence of the violation is provided, which may include documents, witness testimonies, or any other pertinent evidence. The specific clauses or provisions of the original order that have been violated are highlighted.

Respondent’s Defense

The party against whom the enforcement action is taken (respondent) offers their defense. This might include evidence showing compliance, justifying the alleged non-compliance, or challenging the validity of the movant’s claims.]

Witness Testimonies

Witnesses may be called and cross-examined by both parties. These testimonies can provide context, confirm or dispute events, or clarify intentions related to the order’s alleged violation.

Legal Arguments

Attorneys from both sides may present legal arguments, referencing specific laws, past case decisions, or legal interpretations that support their stance.

Court’s Decision

After hearing from both sides, the judge may deliberate on the evidence and arguments presented. The court may seek clarity on specific points or request additional information before making a decision. The judge will then announce the decision. If a violation is determined, the court outlines the appropriate remedies or penalties, which can range from fines to jail time, depending on the nature and severity of the violation. The court can also find that there was no violation and dismiss the motion.

Court’s Order

The court’s decision is documented in a formal order, ensuring both parties understand their responsibilities and any further actions they must take.

Post-Hearing Steps (if necessary)

In cases where the respondent is found in violation and certain penalties or remedies are imposed, they must adhere to the court’s directives. Failure to comply with the enforcement order can result in further legal consequences.

It’s essential to approach an enforcement hearing well-prepared and informed, given the potential legal implications and the impact on all parties involved.

Possible Punishments for Failure to Abide by Family Law Orders

Understanding the repercussions of violating a family court order in Texas is important, both for compliance and for understanding the gravity of enforcement proceedings. Whether you are the party seeking to enforce an order or the one facing an enforcement action, knowing the range of penalties a judge can impose can prepare you for what lies ahead. Here is a comprehensive list of punishments that can be meted out following an enforcement hearing:

  • Fines: A judge can impose monetary fines on the violating party. The amount varies depending on the nature and severity of the violation.
  • Jail time: For more serious or repeated violations, especially in cases of contempt of court, a judge can sentence the respondent to jail. The duration can vary but often serves as a punitive measure to ensure future compliance.
  • Probation: In some instances, the court may choose to place the violator on probation rather than sending them to jail. This often comes with specific conditions that the violator must meet to avoid further penalties.
  • Community service: The court can order the violator to perform a specified number of hours of community service as a form of restitution.
  • Suspension of licenses: For certain violations, like non-payment of child support, the court can order the suspension of professional or driver’s licenses.
  • Wage garnishment: In cases where financial obligations, such as child or spousal support, have not been met, the court can order a portion of the violator’s wages to be directly transferred to the aggrieved party.
  • Liens on property: If the violator owes money, the court can place a lien on their property, ensuring the debt is paid before the property can be sold or refinanced.
  • Clarification or modification of the order: If the court finds that the original order was ambiguous or needs adjustment due to changed circumstances, it can issue a clarified or modified order.
  • Counseling or educational programs: For certain types of violations, especially those concerning child custody or visitation disputes, the court may require the parties to attend counseling or parenting classes.
  • Attorney’s fees: The violator may be ordered to pay the attorney’s fees of the party seeking enforcement, especially if the enforcement action is successful.
  • Make-up visitation: In cases where visitation rights were denied, the court might grant additional visitation time to compensate for the lost time.

It is important to understand that the specific punishment handed down depends on various factors, including the nature of the violation, the details of the original order, and any prior history of non-compliance. Violating a family court order in Texas can have significant legal and financial repercussions, and it is advisable to seek legal guidance if faced with potential enforcement action.

Enforcement Attorney in Tarrant County, TX

Enforcing a family court order in Fort Worth, Arlington, Grapevine, Keller, Southlake, or other cities in Tarrant County, TX can be very complicated and should not be done without the help of an experienced family lawyer. Whether you are trying to enforce an order or defend yourself against an enforcement action, it is very important to have a skilled lawyer from the Law Offices of Richard C. McConathy on your side every step of the way.

Our team is highly skilled in the complexities of family law enforcement and can help you through what can be a very emotional process. Call our office today at (817) 422-5350 or contact us online to discuss your case in more detail. Our firm also helps people with cases involving alleged instances of domestic violence or family violence.

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