Per the divorce decree I am to sell the marital home my ex-wife and I own. Everyone has signed the contract, including her, but now she says she won't sign at closing. What can I do? Can I force her to sign?
First let me preface my answer by stating that I am licensed to practice law in Oklahoma and Texas and not licensed to practice law in Alabama, so I am unable to give you any specific advice regarding your question because I am not familiar with Alabama statues and rules. However, I can give you a general response to your question, although for specific advice you need to speak to an attorney licensed in Alabama. Especially in situations where there are questions about compliance with Court orders, having an attorney review the Divorce Decree before you take any action is strongly recommended.
Assuming the provision in the Divorce Decree which you are referring only directs you to sell the marital residence and includes no further directives to your ex-wife to cooperate you may be able to petition the Court for some prospective relief. It is possible you would be able to a file post-decree motion with the Court asking it to order your wife to cooperate in finalizing the sale of the residence. I would suggest asking the Court to confirm or approve the sale as being in compliance with the terms of the Divorce Decree and have the Court order your ex-wife to execute any and all documents necessary to effectuate the real estate transaction in order to allow you to comply with the Divorce Decree. If time is of the essence be sure to include that information in your motion.
If your Divorce Decree actually orders your ex-wife to cooperate in the closing you may be able to pursue a contempt action against her in order to gain her compliance. A person is in contempt when they fail to comply with an order of the Court. Usually, this requires the person to have violated the Court’s orders before being brought to Court. It appears from your question your ex-wife has not yet violated the Divorce Decree because she has not yet failed to sign the closing documents, she has only told you she would not sign.
Normally, before you could pursue a contempt action against her she would need to have failed to comply (not sign). However, some states do allow a person to file a contempt motion prior to the actual violation if it appears the party will not comply before the hearing on the matter. If, however, your closing date has come and gone and she refused to sign the closing documents, she would be in contempt of this type of provision. Depending on the laws of Alabama she may be fined or even jailed for her failure to obey the Court’s orders.
Bradley K. Cunningham is a Senior Attorney in the Tulsa, Oklahoma office of Cordell & Cordell P.C. where his primary practice is exclusively in the area of domestic relations. Mr. Cunningham is licensed in the states of Oklahoma and Texas. After growing up in Tulsa, Mr. Cunningham moved to Arkansas where he received his undergraduate degree in Accounting from Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas. He then returned to Oklahoma and received his Juris Doctor from the University of Oklahoma.