To prove contempt in family court there are certain very specific requirements that must be met to win your case. When a court issues rulings in a divorce or custody case, those orders are legally binding and must be followed as given. Its not uncommon for the orders of the court not to be followed by a parent that feels aggrieved. Anyone who fails to follow the terms and conditions of a court order in a family court matter can be held in contempt of court and might be subject to penalties and punishments, including jail time.
Bringing A Violation Before The Court
To show contempt of court the person bringing the claim must show that the person that violated the order willfully failed to follow the orders of the court. The proof must establish that the violator intentionally and knowingly violated the order. The intent of the person violating the order is critical to showing contempt. The court will look for evidence that the accused had all the following elements in place at the time of the alleged violation:
- Actual knowledge of the court order
- Ability to comply with the order
- A knowing failure to comply with the order
- No valid excuse for the violation
Types Of Contempt Of Court
There are two main types of contempt, called direct contempt and indirect contempt. Direct contempt happens when someone intentionally obstructs or interferes with a judge’s work in the direct presence of the judge in court. On the other hand, indirect contempt is a willful and knowing disregard or refusal to follow an order of the court outside of the judge’s presence, such as repeated and ongoing violations of court orders in a family court matter.
Burden Of Proof In A Contempt Of Court Hearing
The burden of proof is on the accuser who claims that someone has violated a court order. This icludes matters related to custody, visitation arrangements, or child support. It is best to warn the violator that you have been aware of violations and expect the misbehavior to cease before you file a motion to ask the judge to find them in contempt of court.
Send a letter to the violator explaining the situation and repeating the conditions of the court’s order that have been violated. The violator’s state of mind is critical in showing that violations of the court orders were not accidental and isolated incidents, but instead, they were regular patterns of willful disregard of the court’s orders. A contempt action can be brought by anyone who is the subject of a court order that has been violated. Court actions can enforce a range of court rulings, including:
- Temporary Orders
- Restraining Orders
- Child Support Orders
- Alimony Orders
- Custody and Visitation Schedules
- Property Division Rulings
- Divorce or Paternity Decrees
If the violation of an order involves the non-payment of court-ordered sums, the court can order garnishment of wages or even the seizure of bank accounts to recover the money due.
Punishments For Contempt Of Court Orders
Contempt proceedings can result in civil or criminal penalties. They vary depending on the seriousness of the violation, how frequently it has been repeated, and the conditions of the violations. Punishments can include monetary fines, changes in custody schedules and arrangements, additional visitation to make up for missed or lost visitation due to the violations, and even jail time for the violator who has shown bad faith in their violations. Jail time is generally a rare result in a contempt proceeding, but it is a possibility. In many cases, the threat of jail is enough to get the violator to respect the orders and comply.
Child Support Contempt
Failing to pay child support after a final order is handed down in handled a bit different. Each county is a little different in how they handle this kind of contempt. In Tulsa, the court has a special docket to handle child support failures to pay. Once a final order is issued the contempt citations are consolidated to what’s called the Rocket Docket. Its called this because its intended to fast track this kind of case. Once a person is ordered to appear they must appear and plead guilty or not guilty. Generally, the court enters a plea of not guilty and orders a trial.
The person being accused is asked if they want a bench or jury trial. The moral of the story is, did the child support get paid or not. In most cases it has not. When the facts are this way, at the next hearing, your attorney will help you negotiate a repayment of the past due amount. This usually needs to be caught up over a three year period. While paying the past due amount its important that the future payments remain current.
The court sets the payment plan for a review. At the review the party accused is either in compliance or has some reason why they are not. If this person is out of compliance the court can and will put them in jail for six months. This is usually a no bail but rather the release is made by paying the past due amount. Finally, the party found in contempt can be ordered to pay the attorney fees required to bring the case.
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Legal Assistance In Understanding Your Rights
Court orders in family law cases are usually unambiguous. They explain the terms of custody arrangements and the rights and responsibilities of both parties. This is done so that there should be clarity and understanding about the issues. An experienced family law attorney in Tulsa can help you understand your rights. They can inform you the best ways to go about getting full compliance with all court orders. Call Kania Law Office at 918-743-2233 or contact us online to schedule an initial consultation.