A number of circumstances can arise during and following a dissolution case in which one party or the other seeks to enforce his or her rights. Such cases are commonly referred to as a “contempt proceeding” or “enforcement action”. For example, when support, whether as alimony or child support, is not being paid, or a timesharing is not being honored, a contempt or enforcement action may be initiated between the parties. These types of actions essentially allow the court to exercise its authority to enforce its orders and to gain a person’s compliance with an order of the court or agreement between the parties which has been ratified by court order.
A person who is found to be in contempt of court may be sanctioned in a number of different manners including, but not necessarily limited to, a coercive fine or incarceration. When timesharing is involved, a non-compliant party might face the loss of timesharing or be entitled to make up timesharing or required to pay more child support of his or her failure or refusal to exercise timesharing to which that party is entitled.
Generally, for a court to find a non-compliant party in contempt, there must be a specific order of the court requiring certain conduct on the party of the alleged non-compliant party and it must be established that, in fact, the non-compliant party has failed or refused to abide by the conditions of the order. Thereafter, the non-compliant party is afforded an opportunity to, in effect, “justify the non-compliance”. At the conclusion of the evidence, the court then decides whether the party had and/or presently has the ability to comply with the order in question, and if the party had or has the ability to comply and did not do so, the party can be held in contempt of court. Following a finding of contempt, the court then proceeds with determining the appropriate sanctions. These sanctions may be significant.
It is important to note that although non-compliance with an order of the court does not necessarily mean the non-compliant party is in contempt, even though the non-compliant party may not be held in contempt, the court has other remedies available to it with which to enforce compliance with the order in question.
It is important for you to consult with an experienced family law attorney to not only become informed of your rights to enforce an order of the court, but to also become informed of any defenses you may have to alleged contemptuous conduct. In either case, an experienced attorney is necessary to ensure that your rights are protected and if you are considering pursuing a contempt case or are now or anticipate you will be involved in a contempt case, you should contact our office immediately to speak with one of our experienced Family Law attorneys regarding your rights.