Enforcement of Orders

During the divorce process, the court may issue orders involving various matters such as custody, visitation, finances, and property division. Court orders are legally binding documents and all involved parties must adhere to them. Failure to comply can result in civil and criminal penalties. Unfortunately, some spouses choose not to comply with the terms of their orders, which can create unnecessary stress, hardship, and frustration on the other party’s behalf.

If your former spouse or partner is not following through with an important aspect of your court order, such as the visitation schedule, maintenance payments, or child support payments, we can help you file a Motion for Contempt and ask the judge to enforce the original orders and take additional measures get the other party to comply. To speak with a family law attorney in Spokane, call Crouse Erickson today at 509-624-1380.

What Kinds of Matters Can Lead to Contempt?

The concept of contempt has been sensationalized in Hollywood scenes in which people get thrown out of court for stepping out of line. But most real cases of contempt occur outside the courtroom. In legal terms, contempt simply means the intentional disobedience of a court order.

Our firm has helped clients with the enforcement of all types of family law orders. Common infractions that can result in contempt include:

  • Violating the residential schedule in a parenting plan, such as refusing visitation or not returning the child when scheduled.
  • Failing to pay child support or spousal maintenance.
  • Violating a restraining order.
  • Failing to deliver property, such as not relinquishing a vehicle.

How Can the Judge Compel a Party to Comply?

The object of filing a Motion for Contempt is not to punish, but rather to compel compliance. If the court finds the other party knowingly violated a court order and had the means to comply with such, the court may find that person in contempt, order compliance, and issue sanctions for their failure to comply. Some of the measures a judge may take to compel the party to adhere to the court order include:

  • Entering a judgment for money due such as for back payments of child support or spousal maintenance
  • Ordering a civil (monetary) penalty
  • Ordering wage garnishment for unpaid child support or order a payment plan
  • Ordering the violator undergo counseling or complete a parenting class
  • Ordering that one parent gets make-up residential time with the child
  • Ordering that the violator pay the other party’s attorney’s fees
  • Ordering jail time (usually used for very serious violations or repeat violations)

The court may also schedule future hearings to ensure that the person in contempt is obeying the order.

How Do I Begin the Process of Filing for Contempt?

If your ex is not complying with your family law court order, such as your divorce decree or parenting plan, you will need to:

  • Read over your court order carefully. The wording can be confusing and vague and you need to ensure that the other party is, in fact, in violation.
  • Call an attorney for help with the process. Domestic litigation is complicated and it is good to have a professional help you. Plus, if you win your case, chances are that the other party will have to pay your legal fees.
  • File a motion with your attorney’s help, and serve the papers on the other party.
  • Attend the hearing and be prepared to prove the other party’s violation.

Are There Any Other Ways of Enforcing an Agreement without Filing for Contempt?

Yes. Contempt is a very powerful tool, but sometimes it makes sense to try other, less severe methods of resolving noncompliance before resorting to filing a contempt motion. Alternative enforcement methods may lead to a quicker resolution, they may be less contentious and thus preserve a more amicable relationship between two parties. Avoiding the contentious nature of a contempt proceeding this way is especially desirable if a former couple has young children that each of them would rather not expose to a high level of family conflict.

As an added benefit, pursuing enforcement measures short of contempt first will demonstrate to a court that you are trying your best to resolve issues on your own before asking for contempt. This is likely to weigh in your favor and make the court more willing to grant your motion if, later on, it turns out you really do need to enforce your order in filing for contempt.

Alternatives for contempt include:

  • A simple demand letter. A formal letter, especially one coming from your attorney may be enough to show the other party you are serious, to “scare them straight,” and to get them to comply with your terms. It will also show a court that you are not merely fighting for the sake of fighting.
  • Motion to clarify. Sometimes the source of a disagreement is not that either party is willfully disregarding what the court has told it to do, but that the parties don’t know or agree on what key provisions of order mean. For example, your parenting plan may simply require a child’s father to be granted “reasonable” visitation. The court may have left the terms vague to allow the parents’ discretion in ironing out the details, but if they can’t come to an agreement, a definition of “reasonable” from the court may be enough to solve the problem.
  • Dispute resolution. If the term you are seeking to enforce is part of your parenting plan, you are required to follow the dispute resolution process described in your parenting plan before going to court. Sometimes parenting plans provide for mediation or arbitration proceedings. If that is the case, it may be a good idea to hire a family law attorney to represent you in your dispute resolution session.

Call a Family Law Attorney in Spokane

If you are having issues with the other party complying with any order (whether it is a temporary or final order), or if you are attempting to defend a contempt of court action filed against you, our attorneys are well prepared to assist you. We invite you to contact our office to better understand your rights in a contempt action: 509-624-1380.

Crouse Erickson