If your ex filed a Petition for Contempt against you, she must prove that you are violating a term in an existing order.
- If there is no Order, then there is no Contempt.
- Also, if the Order’s language is not clear it is unlikely that you can be in contempt.
What happens after one side files for Contempt?
After a party files a Petition for Contempt, the Court will issue a Show Cause Order and Writ of Summons indicating the hearing date and the date in which any written response is due by. You would then need to be properly served with a copy of the Petition for Contempt, any exhibits attached, as well as the Show Cause Order and Writ of Summons.
What Happens at a Contempt Hearing?
The person who is making the allegation must prove his case. He has to put on testimony and evidence and prove two things:
- There is a Court Order requiring you to do something specific or prohibited you from doing something specific; and
- You willfully violated the Court Order by doing or not doing that specific thing.
Proving the existence of a Court Order is easily done. However, he has to prove the language in the Order is clear and easy to follow. Sometimes, people write their own agreements or not-so-good attorneys write vague and unclear terms in an agreement. So, if a reasonable person is uncertain what is actually required of you or if, for example, the agreement says “Mom drops off child in the evening” you cannot be held in contempt for bringing the child back at 8:00pm just because Dad thinks “in the evening” means 6:30pm or before 8:00pm. ** This is why it is important to contact experienced attorneys at MLO (www.mulinazzi.com) because out attorneys are former judicial law clerks and are experienced custody litigators so we draft agreements that are clear and leave no wiggle room for one side to cause problems. **
Next, it is the opposing party’s burden to prove that you willfully violated the Court Order. Common examples of contempt include, but are not limited to: denial of access, failure to pay child support, and reimbursement of expenses. To help in your defense, you should keep documentation of communication and payments, including: screenshots of text messages, email correspondence, bank statements, cancelled checks, etc. to corroborate your testimony at the time of the hearing. However, sometimes an older child refuses to go or the other parent has moved far away, or there is another good reason why the child cannot go to the other parent’s house. Although the Order doesn’t say this, everyone is required to act reasonably and keep the child’s interests first. Always try to work out a solution first with the other side and ask for a compromise in writing. Maybe there is a good reason why you couldn’t get your daughter to her mother’s house on a particular day. Similarly, you may be experiencing temporary financial problems and therefore you may have a good reason for missing a payment or two. *** It is important to work with attorneys at MLO/Mulinazzi Law Office (www.mulinazzi.com) because they know how to diffuse a situation before it gets to the Contempt Hearing in order to protect you from a finding of contempt. ***
Does it matter if I am found in contempt? What happens to me?
If you are found in contempt the Court can impose a lot of different sanctions on you. The Court can make you pay your ex’s attorney’s fees (all or some), the Court can require you to give make up time to the other side, the Court could require you to participate in counseling, pay for certain activities or services, and there are instances where the Court changes the custodial schedule. In property cases, the monetary damage from a finding of contempt can be extreme and you could be ordered to pay for house repairs, the cost of a Trustee to sell the home, or the other side could be awarded a large portion of a valuable asset (401k, house equity, bank accounts, etc.).
It is critical that you not be found in contempt and that you consult with an experienced and respected attorney at MLO (www.mulinazzi.com) to assist in your defense as a finding of contempt can impact future modifications of legal and physical custody, as well as additional sanctions, including, but not limited to: contributing to the opposing party’s attorneys’ fees or in very serious cases involving nonpayment of child support you could face incarceration.