Courts and judges serve one overriding important function – to decide disputes. When they do so, they set out the rights and responsibilities of each of the parties in a court order, judgment or decree. By participating in the court proceedings, the parties acknowledge the authority of the court to make these decisions and to comply with the ultimate outcome of their case.
In the realm of family law, judges make decisions that compel parties to act in accordance with their rulings. They must abide by the decisions concerning legal decision-making and parenting time with the children. They must pay any child support or spousal maintenance ordered. They must comply with the court’s division of the property and debts of the marriage. The entire system is built around the assumption that once the parties have entrusted the decisions in their case to the court, they will comply with the outcome by being obedient to the court’s rulings.
Sometimes one or both of the parties is simply unable to comply with certain aspects of the court’s orders. But sometimes, they are able to do so but simply refuse. Some of the most common problems that arise are a refusal to abide by court orders regarding parenting time, refusal to pay court-ordered child support and refusal to pay spousal maintenance. When a party knowingly and intentionally refuses to obey a court order despite having the ability to do so, that party may be found to be in contempt of the court. When contempt proceedings are brought, determination must be made after a hearing as to both whether the court order has been violated as well as whether the violation was willful and intentional, or whether it was unavoidable.
Contempt is a very serious matter. While a party in contempt may be hurting the other party by depriving that party of certain rights afforded to them under the court order, it is also a sign of disrespect to the court itself and to the judge of that court hearing the case. Intentionally ignoring a court order effectively questions the legitimacy of the judge to make court orders and undercuts the very function for which courts are established and judges serve.
Because of the severity of contempt, there can be severe penalties. In the realm of family court, parties found in contempt can be ordered to belatedly comply by a certain date, fined, deprived of certain rights, and held liable for the innocent party’s attorney’s fees and court costs. In some cases, if the offense is severe enough, the violating party may be taken into custody until he or she has made whole or significant partial compliance with the court order that has been violated.
Special care must be taken in both bringing and defending contempt actions.
If you are being intentionally deprived of your rights under court orders in your case, contempt may be the mechanism that’s right for you to get your rights enforced and obtain what you deserve from court orders in your favor. If you are unable to comply with all of the terms of the court orders in your case, you may be able to avoid a finding of contempt through the assertion of appropriate defenses.
Because of its seriousness, contempt of court issues should not be treated lightly. Victor Garnice has a long history of dealing with these matters and can represent you in a way that effectively demonstrates not only conduct, but also motivations, to the court in obtaining the relief or presenting the defense you are due.