Most of us remember these words spoken by Tom Hanks in the movie “Apollo 13” (or if you’re old like me you remember the actual event), and for me the words represent a moment in which the astronauts realize they had a problem beyond their ability to solve. We all have these moments, but as to when we recognize such moments is different for each of us, and sometimes it can be too late. I see this particularly in the post-decree family law cases I handle. Too often a parent or a spouse will tolerate bad behavior from a former spouse or partner. I have always echoed Robert Frost’s belief that fences make for good neighbors. The same holds true for enforcing existing court orders. These orders are in place for a reason, and that is because the parties need them so that at least one of the two would respect boundaries.
Too often I will see a client and they will talk to me about the bullying behavior they have experienced or are experiencing at the hands of their ex-spouse. As I inquire about the circumstances I will often find that my client has not forced the other party to comply with the original agreement. Frequently they will tell me that they did not enforce the orders because they wanted to be nice or they did not want to make waves…
Being nice is a good thing, and if you have read my posts you will note that I frequently talk about working with another party. But sometimes this cannot be done. If one party was a bully during the relationship they probably still are, so my counsel is to think things through before agreeing to any change to an existing order.
Moreover, if you change an order by behavior, meaning that the order says one thing and you do another, a court will find that the parties modified their agreement by their actions. This can be a problem if you later want to revert back to the original order. My counsel is to make all changes in writing because this way there is little doubt as to what the parties agreed to. I also strongly suggest you speak to an attorney to make sure you understand the implications of the proposed changes.
I have one client in which the parties made informal changes to their parenting agreement and child support only they did not do anything formal. Now the former spouse is trying to collect back support and there is no evidence that a mutually agreed upon change ever occurred, and this is a problem.
So, do not wait until you are 239,000 miles from earth to determine you are in over your head. A short consult will often alleviate your worries, and will enable you to make a decision as to whether you want to keep a former partner a good neighbor by enforcing boundaries. Contact us if we can help.