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Contempt in Family Court

As a skilled divorce lawyer Arlington TX trusts, we often hear the horror stories of a former spouse or the other parent blatantly disregarding the court order. In family law cases, the issue may be the failure to pay child support, failure to allow access and possession of the children, or whatever else may be present in the court order. The upside to the negativity is that many of the people in this situation have something at their disposal. It is called contempt. A contempt order, can force the other person to follow the order that they are violating. In fact, a contempt order may even subject the violator to jail time. In this blog I will address a few questions we have received from potential clients regarding contempt.

How do I get a contempt order?

To get a contempt order you need to have the court enforce the order. Enforcement is what family courts use for cases that are brought before the court to force a person to follow a court order. In family law, the court enforces various types of orders including: Access and Possession, Child Support, Visitation, Property Division, Spousal Maintenance etc. If the court finds the person in contempt then the judge may order the person to pay a fine, send them to jail, allow make up visitation periods, place the person on probation or take other measures. Keep in mind, if the other person is employed, jail time may not always be the best alternative especially if the person is liable for paying child support. In these instances, many judges suspend the jail sentence to allow the person to follow the order with the threat of jail time in the background to force the violator to comply.

Is there anything special I need to enforce the order?

For the court to enforce an order through contempt, there must be clear, specific, and unambiguous “command language” that would tell the parties to the decree exactly what the court ordered. Here are a few examples, for visitation, the order must state the day, time and place of when a visitation period begins and the day, time and place of when a visitation period ends. For child support, the court order must state how much is to be paid, the date on when the payments begin, the date on when the payments end, and to whom the child support is to be paid.

What if my original court order is not clear and specific enough?

Sometimes a court order is not specific enough for contempt. In these instances, the court can clarify the order. By clarifying the order, the court makes the order clear and specific enough for contempt action. Once this is complete, the court will give the violator an opportunity to follow the order.

Can the other party be held in contempt for not paying what they were supposed to pay in the divorce decree?

Yes and no. Yes, they can be held in contempt for not paying the medical support and child support that was ordered in the original divorce decree or child support order. No, they cannot be held in contempt for failure to pay any liabilities or specific debts awarded in a divorce decree. Unlike child support, imprisonment for non-payment of a debt is not allowed by law, whereas, child support is not a debt but a duty owed by the parent of the child.

Brandy Austin Law Firm PLLCThanks to our friends and contributors from the Brandy Austin Law Firm PLLC for their insight into family law practice.

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