Contempt of Court Consequences and Punishments

Navigating post-divorce co-parenting in Harris County feels manageable until you’re hit with a notice: your ex-wife’s failed compliance with the court-ordered visitation schedule. This violation, known as contempt of court, carries consequences like fines or even imprisonment. Such breaches not only disrupt custody arrangements but also strain co-parenting relationships, directly affecting the well-being of your children. It’s essential to address these issues promptly through legal channels to uphold custody integrity and prioritize your children’s best interests.

Court orders and co-parenting respect

When your Co-parent doesn’t respect and follow those court orders you spent so much time negotiating, that can become incredibly frustrating and disheartening. Your post-divorce life hinges upon both you and your Co-parent having mutual respect for those orders and a willingness to follow them. When you choose to skirt the rules and ignore the principles you previously agreed to, you expose yourself to the risk of further violations of the court orders. Ultimately, their violations of the order hurt more than just your pride: they potentially hurt your relationship with your child.

Whether it is regarding child support, Visitation, or possession of your final decree of divorce, the marching orders for you and your family now and in the future. It can no doubt be difficult to live under a court order rather than see your child whenever you please or run various areas of your life in the way you choose. However, by getting a divorce, you have voluntarily open yourself up to the jurisdiction of a Texas family law court. Therefore, you must follow the orders of that court both now and in the future.

A family court can enforce the terms of their prior court orders by holding the violating spouse in contempt of court. This implies that if a violation is identified, a formal finding of contempt enables the court to impose penalties such as fines, attorney’s fees, and jail time. The key to getting to this point is successfully filing an enforcement lawsuit and then having a court grant your requests for punishment regarding those violations. Let’s take some time to discuss what it means for a court to find your spouse to violate a court order.

What is an enforcement case?

An enforcement lawsuit is one in which you may request that a court review actions of your co-parent that may violate your final decree of divorce. You are asking the court to enforce the terms of your divorce decree. Think of the final decree of divorce like a contract, and you and your ex-spouse are business people who have negotiated that contract. If your co-parent is not living up to their end of the bargain, then you are within your rights to seek a court鈥檚 review of those alleged violations.

Enforcement Lawsuits: Rules and Remedies

When you file an enforcement lawsuit, you must follow some precise rules as far as the pleadings are concerned. You must specify the type of violation, provide details about that violation, and then ask for a remedy from the court. The court may remedy the situation by granting make-up time for lost parenting time with your children, awarding attorney’s fees incurred for legal representation, and/or holding your ex-spouse in contempt of court, as previously discussed in today’s blog post.

An enforcement lawsuit addresses events that occurred after filing and resolving an initial family law case. Once the court issues orders in your divorce, child custody, or child support case, both you and the opposing party must adhere to them. Failure to comply may result in the imposition of any of these penalties and potential additional consequences in the future.

Enforceable Family Court Orders: Requirements and Clarity

For your family court order to be enforceable through contempt proceedings, it must meet certain requirements. Probably foremost among them is that the language contained in the order must be clear, unambiguous, and specific. In other words, both you and your co-party must fully understand the court’s order to face contempt charges for any violations. For example, if your family court order is nonspecific and ambiguous as to what requirements are in place for child support. If your ex-spouse does not pay child support according to the terms of the order, you may find yourself in the position of not holding them accountable.

This is true even if you understood the intent of the order and could not follow its terms otherwise. If your Co-parent does not have the same understanding of the order or does not follow its terms, then you probably would not be able to enforce the order. This implies that the order holds no value beyond the paper it was printed on. After spending time, money, and emotional output on a divorce or child custody case is probably the last thing you want to be the result of your trip to the courthouse.

The odds are that the court will then attempt to clarify the order before you all leave the courthouse. This way, the problems that brought you to the courthouse will not occur again due to ambiguity in the order. However, it does not imply that the violations of the court order will result in any punishment being handed down.

What happens when a party is found in contempt of court?

Suppose you are successfully able to prove that your Co-parent has violated a portion of your court order, then and you needed to have requested a contempt of court finding in your enforcement petition for the court to consider it. If you have taken the necessary steps, when your co-parent is found in contempt of court, the family court judge can then order them to pay a fine or even send them to jail for violating the court order. Courts typically order jail time more frequently for violations related to child support orders. However, ordering a party to jail does not occur very frequently overall.

Practicality in Enforcing Child Support: Jail Time Dilemma

In a way, this makes complete sense. For example, if your Co-parent has been unable or unwilling to pay you child support, then the rationale to send them to jail for having done so will not exactly help you out when it comes to getting money in child support. This is an argument that I always hear: how can a person earn money to pay child support in jail?

Therefore, sending your Co-parent to jail may not be the best option for you or your family. Sending them to jail may make you feel good or restore a sense of justice in the world, but in the long run, it is unlikely to result in any financial gain for you. Consider that many employers would fire your Co-parent for not showing up to work even with a valid excuse. Causing your Co-parent to lose their job would be the ultimate backfire on any enforcement case that sought jail time into contempt of court proceeding.

What happens many times is that if your judge were to award jail time to your Co-parent, they might suspend the jail sentence. This means that the judge will present the possibility of a jail sentence for them if they fail to meet certain conditions, such as repaying child support or fulfilling other outlined terms in a pending order. Having to pay attorneys fees, court fees or fines per violation are all realistic possibilities. Being found in contempt of court could lead to up to five years of community supervision, commonly known as probation.

Alternative Consequences of Contempt in Family Court

After being held in contempt of court by a family court judge following an enforcement case, they may impose a requirement for the individual to attend counseling or therapy. These counseling or therapy sessions could center around things like planning out of the financial future, budgeting, managing their time, or even receiving alcohol or drug therapy. Should the judge recognize that a particular condition in your co-parent’s life led to a violation of the court order, this may become the focus of therapy or counseling.

If a suspended jail sentence is the result of the case, then your family court judge will order your Co-parent to appear back in court at a later time to catch up on their progress or lack of progress in meeting the requirements of the suspended jail sentence. If your Co-parent has not met the terms of the suspended jail sentence order, then your Co-parent will likely serve jail time.

What must be contained in a motion for enforcement?

Until a motion for enforcement is filed and effectively argued, none of the preceding information regarding being found in contempt of court becomes relevant. Due to the serious consequences of contempt of court, the state imposes strict restrictions on filings. Your motion must clearly identify the violated portion of the prior order and specify the relief sought. Additionally, it must clearly state the type of noncompliance alleged.

Additional requirements are in place when it comes to you filing a motion for enforcement of child support. A motion for enforcement of child support must include the amount that your parent owed as provided in the court order as well as the amount paid in any amount of arrearages. Figuring out these figures should not be difficult. After all, all you would have to do is go to the attorney general’s website and include a copy of the Child Support Ledger between you and your Co-parent as an exhibit to your motion.

How late is too late to file an enforcement motion over child support?

It is worth asking how long after becoming aware of the nonpayment of child support you can proceed to file a motion to enforce the prior court order. Acting quickly in most areas of life would seem advantageous, and it is no different when it comes to child support nonpayment. The sooner you act, the more likely you are to nip the issue in the Bud and prevent your Co-parent from making it a habit as far as not paying support in the future.

However, a family court would retain jurisdiction to issue contempt orders for the failure to pay child support as ordered if you file your motion for enforcement no later than two years after your child becomes an adult or the date on which your child support obligation terminates under the prior court order. This is a relevant consideration because your Co-parent’s obligation to pay child support would either end on your child’s 18th birthday or on the date on which they graduate from high school, whichever occurs later.

What can your Co-parent offer as defenses for the nonpayment of child support?

Your co-parent’s failure to pay child support may seem straightforward, but they likely have prepared defenses explaining why they did not pay the support in full or on time. One common defense individuals assert in enforcement cases is that the party receiving child support voluntarily relinquished possession and control of the child to the support payor.

The relinquishment of possession and control must have occurred beyond the periods outlined in the court order. For example, if your Co-parent did not pay you child support for March because your children stayed with him the entire month, then this may be a valid argument to make as far as the defense against your enforcement case is concerned. You need to counter their evidence and provide information to a judge showing why you did not relinquish possession of your children during this time.

Another valid defense to the failure to pay child support is if your Co-parent could not pay in the ordered amount. This is a tougher argument to make, given that there are many opportunities to earn income sufficient to pay child support. If your co-parent lacks separate property or other assets to obtain cash or secure a loan for child support payments, they may offer a defense for the failure to pay.

Do you need an attorney to proceed on an enforcement case?

In my opinion, success in an enforcement lawsuit requires an experienced attorney. With so much at stake, it is not advisable to proceed without someone who has prior experience with the process. Successfully arguing and enforcing motions in court, as well as drafting enforcement motions, can be challenging tasks. If you lack the time and ability to do so, it would be wise to seek representation before proceeding to court.

Many attorneys focus their practice on enforcement cases, and you can seek those lawyers out by interviewing them. For example, the attorneys with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan are all experienced in filing and defending clients in enforcement lawsuits. The burden is on the filing party to present evidence sufficient to have a motion for enforcement granted. For that reason, you absolutely should hire an attorney who has experience presenting information to a judge clearly and concisely.

Conclusion

The challenges of post-divorce co-parenting in Harris County become evident when faced with breaches of court-ordered visitation schedules, leading to potential consequences of contempt of court. Beyond legal ramifications, these violations disrupt custody arrangements and strain co-parenting relationships, ultimately impacting the well-being of the children involved. Promptly addressing such issues through legal channels is crucial to maintaining custody integrity and prioritizing the best interests of the children. By taking proactive steps to resolve conflicts and uphold court orders, parents can create a more stable and supportive environment for their children’s growth and development.

Questions about the material presented in today’s blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan

If you have any questions about the material presented in today’s blog post, please feel free to reach out to the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer complimentary consultations six days a week, available in person, over the phone, or via video. These consultations are invaluable in providing further insights into Texas family law and understanding how your family might be affected by divorce or child custody proceedings.

I appreciate your interest in our law practice. Our attorneys and staff take a great deal of pride in being able to serve our community. We look forward to the opportunity to speak to you about how we can best serve you and your family.

Book an appointment with Law Office of Bryan Fagan using SetMore
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