CONTEMPT AND NON-COMPLIANCE
On its surface, contempt / non-compliance cases appear to be straight forward. Did a person do what they were ordered to do or not? Did they sign over the house in a divorce? Did they provide child support as ordered? Did the parent with custody deny visitation when they should not have denied it?
However, family court is a court of equity and not a court of law. This does not mean that the Court does not follow the law, but it means that the law is a tool to reach what is fair and right. You do not win on technicalities in family court.
Failure to comply with an order can subject the non-complying person to sanctions, including attorneys’ fees and even jail time for civil contempt. This is an awesome power the Court holds, but it also is supposed to use the power fairly. This means that someone facing jail time can show that the contempt was not “willful” or not their fault.
Was visitation denied because the other party showed up drunk? Was child support not paid because of the loss of a job? Was the house not transferred because the other party did not pay for a lien they were supposed to pay before the transfer?
Using child support as the example, if someone loses their job, they still have to pay child support. The proper thing to do would be to file a modification. If they did not, however, and they are facing contempt, it is unlikely that the judge will send them to jail, as they did not pay because they had no job to pay. However, the judge will likely order an immediate repayment schedule to pay the money that should have been paid, and it is also not the person’s fault who is getting child support, so attorneys fees will likely be awarded for having to come to the court.
Sound complicated? It basically boils down to this: If you were ordered to do something and you did not do it, you will be held in contempt. If it is not your fault that you did not do it, you will probably pay attorneys fees because you are the one that failed, but you probably will not go to jail. If it is the other side’s fault that you did not do something, you probably will not even pay attorneys’ fees.
While this is an oversimplification, it should give you an idea of what you are facing if you have to take someone to court for contempt or you are being taken to court for contempt. Please call 770-863-8355 to set a time to discuss the facts of your case to get an evaluation by one of our attorneys.