Contempt Matters

Memphis Contempt Matters

 In an ideal world, a court would order one party in a divorce or family law proceeding to perform a certain action and that party would immediately perform the ordered action. Alas, as many Tennessee ex-spouses and divorced parents can tell you, ours is not an ideal world. Even after having an alimony, property division, child custody, or child support hearing decided in your favor, getting the other party to comply with the court’s orders may be easier said than done.

If a court order has been entered against the other party in your divorce or family law matter but the other party refuses to comply with the order, you may need to seek assistance from the court. Using its contempt powers, the court can take measures designed to either punish the other party for refusing to comply with the court’s orders or to coerce the other party into complying with the order. An experienced Memphis family law attorney can help you in petitioning the court to use its contempt powers to assist you.

Principles Underlying the Court’s Contempt Powers

When a person is said to be in “contempt” of court, that person is (essentially) accused of violating the dignity and honor of the court by refusing to obey a lawful order pronounced by the court. By exercising its contempt powers in such situations, a court is not only ensuring that its orders are carried out but it is also upholding its dignity, ensuring the offending party and others respect the court’s authority in the future.

Differences Between Civil and Criminal Contempt

There are two general types of contempt powers available to a court, depending on the goals the court wishes to achieve: civil and criminal. When a defendant is found in civil contempt, the court may impose sanctions and penalties in order to secure the compliance of the offending party with the court’s order. The offending party in this situation is said to have the “keys to the jail cell” in that the sanction imposed by the court ceases immediately once the offending party has complied with the court’s order. When an offending party is found in criminal contempt of court, by contrast, the court may impose a sanction as punishment. In this situation, the contempt is lifted and the sanction terminates once it has been fulfilled. In either case, the court will typically impose a fine and/or jail sentence.

For example, suppose the other party has failed to vacate the marital residence contrary to a property division order. The court may find the other party in civil contempt and impose a $1,000 per week fine until he or she vacates the home. In this situation, the other party ceases to pay $1,000 per week immediately once he or she actually vacates the home. If the court found the other party in criminal contempt of court, it could order that the other party serve a 30-day jail sanction. In this case, the other party would not be lifted until the 30-day sanction is completed, regardless of whether the other party indicated he or she intended to vacate the home.

Do I Need an Attorney to Encourage the Court to Exercise its Contempt Powers?

Except in cases wherein the other party defies a court order in the presence of the judge, a court is not likely to know whether the other party is complying with its orders unless you bring this to the court’s attention. You must do so by filing an appropriate pleading and conducting a hearing in which you must present evidence that establishes the other party’s failure to follow the court’s orders. Your chances of succeeding on your petition to find the other party in contempt can be increased if you are assisted and represented by a knowledgeable and aggressive Memphis family law attorney.

The Tennessee law firm of Douglass & Runger, Attorneys at Law, can assist you in obtaining legal relief if the other party has failed to comply with a court order in your family law case. Contact us at (901) 388-5805 for experienced and dedicated family law representation.