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What Does Contempt Mean During COVID-19?

It seems that every topic we discuss in our world these days is related to COVID-19. The discussions that we have with friends and family often times are had in the context of what is going on with the virus that particular day. The irony of this is that the virus itself is what it is. However, we as human beings view the virus in certain ways on certain days due to certain circumstances. The reality of the situation is that it impacts us quite differently depending on who we are and what our individual circumstances are. 

For example, if you are a person who was going through a divorce, child custody case where has recently completed either of these type of family law cases then you are aware of what it is like to live under family court orders. Whether those orders are temporary orders or final orders, it should have been abundantly clear to you that as a result of being in a family law case that the decisions you make are no longer based solely on your own judgment but that of a literal judge. Rather than being able to do what you want and how you want it in relation to your family and your finances court orders intercede and direct your behavior in various ways. 

You may have gone through your entire family law case without asking yourself the question: what is a family court order and what exactly does it do? It would be normal for your focus to have been on getting out of your family law case so that you can move on to the next phase of your life. You may have been so focused on negotiation, avoiding court and minimizing the costs of an attorney and the divorce process as a whole and you may have missed more subtle nature of a family law case. 

By filing a family lawsuit, you are also asking a court to impose very specific borders on you and your family that dictate your behavior to certain extents. How effective those orders are and how agreeable you are to follow those orders will directly impact the future trajectory of your life. I don't want to make it seem like your entire life is going to depend on your family court orders. On the contrary, it is likely that your family court orders will only impact you for a relatively short period of time. However, these orders are still very important for however long they ultimately last for you and your family. 

I would like to take this opportunity to discuss a couple of important issues related to Texas family court orders. First, we're going to talk about what a family court order is what areas of your life it impacts and how you can prepare for these changes. Next, I will discuss the topic of contempt and more specifically contempt during the COVID-19 era. This is a discussion that will deal more so in specifics and what can happen to a family if adherence to the family court order begins to break down. 

What is a family court order and what impact will it have on you in your life moving forward?

As a result of your child custody, divorce or other family law related case the end result of your proceeding is likely to be an Order issued by a family court judge. This order we will not only summarize what happened in your case but will also direct your and any other parties’ behaviors after the case has completed. In this way, we can view a family court order properly as being impactful to your life now and in the future. The extent to which the family court order will have impact on your future life will depend in large part on what type of family law case you went before the judge regarding.

Final orders in a divorce case

Divorce cases tend to be the most dynamic, fluid and intricate of any family law case. The reason for this is that a divorce case deals not only in issues related to children for many people, but also relate to financial matters for just about every person who goes through a divorce. It does not matter if you were community estate is rather small or if your marriage was somewhat short. There are almost always financial matters that need to be attended to in a divorce even if that just means transferring title to a couple vehicles and assigning responsibility for a credit card debt. 

The final order that parties going through a divorce are seeking is known as a final decree of divorce. The final decree of divorce is a document which contains all of the orders in agreements made by you and your spouse in a divorce. Your names and signatures will be collected at the end of the document as well as those of your attorneys and the judge. Once the order is signed by all parties and the judge it goes into effect. 

The judge in your case does not periodically check in on you and your ex-spouse to make sure that you were following the terms of your order. A divorce decree is a self-enforcing document meaning that you or your spouse we need to seek to enforce the terms of your order if it has been violated. We will discuss this subject more in detail in a moment but for now I wanted to make sure that you were aware that the courts do not have a mechanism for enforcing divorce decree terms on their own. 

Final orders in a child custody case

The other most frequently encountered family law case is a child custody case. There are elements of child custody cases in divorce, but a child custody case does not deal in the division of property, but you see in a divorce. If two unmarried persons are involved in a child custody case, there is no community estate to divide and therefore there is no property element to a child custody case. However, this does not mean that there are no financial implications in a child custody case. Most notably, child support is oftentimes an issue relevant in a family law case like a child custody matter. 

Frequently, child custody cases involved two persons who are unmarried and are not in any kind of dating relationship. In these circumstances a mother may be attempting to establish child support, or a father may be attempting to establish visitation rights. There is typically a history of one parent denying the other time with the child or one parent failing to contribute financially to the upbringing of that child. As a result of these circumstances going too far the parties are left with little choice but to file a lawsuit. 

The term child custody is fairly broad and fairly vague. In fact, the term does not even appear in the Texas family code one time. What custody has come to represent are issues that are more accurately classified as conservatorships issues. These are subjects that relate to the ability to make decisions on behalf of your child and the duty to care for your child in terms of providing shelter, clothing, education and necessary medical care. 

However, parties and their attorneys alike have come to utilize custody as a general term to describe not only these type of subjects, but subjects related to possession, access, visitation and even child support. Mothers and fathers alike tend to view cursory almost purely in terms of time with their kids in many instances. This is understandable on many levels given how critical parent and child interaction is when building a relationship. However, there is much more in a child custody order than solely a recapping of the child's visitation schedule.

The child custody orders either in a freestanding child custody case or within a divorce will also establish a child support obligation for the non-custodial parent. A non-custodial parent is the parent with whom the child does not reside with on a regular basis. If, during the school year, your child resides with your X wife then you are the non-custodial parent as such you will need to follow the orders contained in your final orders which dictate how and when child support is to be paid. 

Family court orders that deal in specific subject matter 

As opposed to child custody and divorce cases which pertain to a range of subjects under the general canopy of divorce or child custody, there are family court orders which are established In relation to particular people or particular subjects. For example, you may be part of a child custody case as a grandparent or as a parent involved in a Child Protective Services case. In either of these cases you may be entitled to be a part of a final order in the case. However, depending on your circumstances Your role in the case may be more minimal then in the other two type of family law cases we have already discussed today. 

For example, if you are a grandparent who has standing to file to be a part of a child custody case involving your grandchild then you may be awarded visitation or conservatorships rights to your grandchild depending on your specific circumstances. As a result, the portion of that child custody order which pertains to you may be relatively short. However, its terms are just as impactful in binding on you as any other party. 

Additionally, if you are a parent who has been investigated buy Child Protective Services then you are involved in a very specific type of child custody case. Most notably, your conservatorships rights as a parent may be severely restricted or even terminated depending upon the results of a CPS investigation regarding instances of alleged violence or neglect directed against one of your children. You should be aware that there are specific requirements in place for CPS cases and your family court order may reflect those realities as well. 

What about contempt during the COVID-19 era? 

Contempt is a finding by a judge that you violated a court order. The violation of that court order is most likely to have occurred outside the presence of the court and be in relation to some aspect of child support, conservatorships rights, visitation or possession. When a court finds that you have violated in order then it will hold you in contempt of court and your opposing party may be able to have penalties assessed against you for each of your violations. Potential contempt findings may result in fines, court costs being assessed, attorneys’ fees for both you and your spouse being ordered to be paid as well as the possibility of jail time depending on the nature of the order that was violated. 

As I mentioned at the outset of today's blog post, it doesn't matter if we are in the middle of a viral pandemic or not a family court order is not going to be enforced by a judge unless you or your opposing party take steps to do so. If you are interested in attempting to enforce the terms of a family court order, then I would recommend you file an enforcement case. And enforcement cases a type of family lawsuit which seeks to bring about violations of your court order to the attention of a judge, provide specific information about those violations and then propose a punishment. 

Questions about contempt during the COVID-19 era? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan 

If you have any questions about the material presented in today's blog post, then I would recommend that you contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultations via phone, in person and via video. These consultations are a great way for you to learn more about the world of Texas family law and to gain some Perspective on your particular circumstances. 


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