Contempt Proceedings

When there is an existing order that has not been complied with, a party may seek to enforce that obligation by a contempt proceeding.  The contempt proceeding can include payment issues for child support, alimony, medical bills or other obligations, compliance with other specific directions of the court, and notification issues.

The basis for a contempt action is a willful refusal to comply with a court's order.  It is brought in the court which issued the order.  This is true even if the defendant no longer resides in the jurisdiction.

In establishing willful refusal, it is important to establish that the defendant had notice of his obligations and had the ability to comply with the court order but did not do so.

For the party pursuing contempt it is important to maintain good records of all transactions showing how funds were applied among the particular obligations of the paying party.  It is important to have records showing that the responsible party was notified of particular responsibilities.  Many times for instance, I have parents come in to pursue a child support contempt.  At the same time, they may tell me that the other party has not paid his or her share of the child's medical expenses.  However, when I ask for verification that they notified the other party of these expenses, there is no documentation.  At this point, it is necessary to make the notification before pursuing contempt on that issue.

For the party defending a contempt, it is just as important to have good records of monies paid or actions taken to comply with the court order.  Just because receiving party is keeping records doesn't mean that the paying party should not keep their own records.  When making payments, it is important to pay by a verifiable method, the best being by personal check.  Money orders are hard to trace, and cash leaves a limited paper trail.  A check drawn on a bank account can always be verified including obtaining a copy of ht endorsing party's signature.

Some other obligations are not so simple.  In some divorce matters, a party may be  ordered to refinance a particular obligation.  It is important to create a paper trail that demonstrates that the party has attempted to comply with this obligation.  A party in that case needs to make formal applications for loans even if they believe that there financial circumstances mean that they will be turned down.

We are ready to help our clients navigate the issues related to enforcement of these obligations.

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