Once your divorce Decree is entered the question often arises as to how to enforce it. The answer depends upon which area needs enforcing:


Thanks to strong federal and state enforcement laws, this is often the easiest issue to enforce. For most orders, you simply contact the Division of Child Support (DCS) at:

State of Washington
Division of Child Support
500 First Avenue S.
Seattle, WA 98104-2830
(206) 341-7000

DCS services are free. They do an excellent job of enforcing orders where the paying parent is employed and receives a regular paycheck. Where they often have difficulty is with self-employed individuals and individuals who work under the table. New statutes permit the state to suspend driver’s licenses or professional licenses if payment is not made. Even this, however, may not be enough to force prompt payment.

You may also be able to obtain free enforcement through the Civil Division of the Prosecutor’s Office. Once they prepare the case, they can schedule contempt of court hearings. You may reach them in King County at:

King County Prosecutor
Civil Division
(206) 296-9020

Your final option is to hire a private attorney. The attorney can schedule a contempt hearing and request that jail time be imposed if the support is not paid. Jail tends to be a very powerful motivator in obtaining child support payments.


There are no free government services to enforce your final Parenting Plan. Generally, you must retain an attorney to assist you through the filing of a contempt action.

The enforcement of the Parenting Plan requires strict adherence to the provisions of the order. If your Parenting Plan is vague, it may be difficult to enforce. Another problem that comes up frequently is the allegation that there was an agreement to deviate from the Parenting Plan. While you are certainly free to enter into agreements, it may be difficult to prove the exact terms of the agreement if it is oral. Written agreements that are dated and signed are the best protection you have against someone lying about the terms of the agreement later on.

Contempt actions may request not only make up visitation, but also attorney fees for filing the motion. Contempt of court is the usual method of enforcing a Parenting Plan.

Another consequence to consider is that two contempt orders filed within three years is presumptively grounds to open up the Parenting Plan to a major modification action. If you are on the receiving end of a motion for contempt, you should take the motion very seriously. Hiring a private attorney would be a wise investment.


Case law provides that property and debt orders in the Decree may not be enforced with a contempt action unless they are related to support of the family. This is an issue that you might want to discuss with an attorney.

Even if contempt is not available, there are certainly other remedies available. For example, a judgment could be entered for the value of the item not transferred. If the issue is transfer of title to a house or a vehicle, a Special Master may also be appointed to sign the title on behalf of the refusing party. With the authority of a court order, the Special Master’s signature will have the same effect as if the individual signed off on the title.

As a practical matter, most people will not hire an attorney to force the transfer of items of nominal value, such as toasters, etc. The one exception I have seen is for one-of-a-kind family photos. Obviously, the value of an item may mean more than the monetary value.