Can You Enforce a Pennsylvania Marital Settlement Agreement or Property Settlement Agreement?

Question:  My spouse and I divorced last year.  When we decided to divorce, we agreed that we would file the divorce complaint ourselves without a lawyer because we were on relatively good terms. We were able to work out a marital settlement agreement.  Per the agreement, I stayed in our home, but my ex would pay for the mortgage of the house.  He paid the mortgage for about 10 months, and the last few months, he stopped paying it.  When I talked to him, he said he forgot and will pay it.  It’s been several months, and he still has not paid for it. What can I do to make him comply with our agreement and pay the mortgage?

Answer: I am sorry you have to deal with this issue.  When your divorce was finalized, you probably didn't think that you would have to deal with any other issues related to the divorce later on.  Unfortunately, you are not the only one in this situation.  As divorce lawyers in Doylestown and Newtown, we have seen this happen to many divorcing couples.

In order to enforce the marital settlement agreement, you would need to file a petition with the court to enforce the agreement.

What is a Petition to Enforce Marital Settlement Agreement in Pennsylvania?

A petition to enforce your marital settlement agreement is a petition that asks the court to enforce the terms of the agreement you reached with your ex-husband.  Depending on whether the agreement was entered as an Order of Court or whether it is a stand alone agreement, you may be able to file a petition for Contempt of the Order or a petition to enforce the terms of the stand alone agreement.  The petition must show that the agreement was validly entered or that the agreement was entered as an order of Court and how your ex-husband violated the agreement, i.e., failed to make mortgage payments.  The court will then schedule a hearing and your ex-husband will have a chance to respond to your petition.

 So long as the agreement is valid, PA divorce courts will enforce marital settlement agreements and compel the non-complying party to abide by the terms of the agreement.  The court may take steps to enforce compliance, such as garnishing your ex-husband's income.  In addition, if the Court finds that your ex-husband willfully violated the agreement he may be required to pay for your reasonable attorney's fees for filing the petition to enforce the marital settlement agreement particularly if it was made an Order of Court.

There are limited situations where the court will not enforce the agreement.  Marital Settlement Agreements are viewed by the Court as a contract and subject to contract law.  As with any contract, there must be certain conditions met to enforce that contract.  For example, if your ex-husband shows some type of fraud committed, or he was under duress when he signed the agreement the Court may set aside the agreement and find there is no agreement to enforce, either in whole or in part.  .

I encourage you to talk to a divorce lawyer in PA about your case.  We have offices in Doylestown and Newtown, Bucks County. Our divorce lawyers have extensive experience in helping parties similar to your situation.