When a judge finalizes family court proceedings and signs the associated order(s), the order and all of the details wherein become legally binding and enforceable. These include those related to child support, alimony, visitation schedules, and property division—amongst other factors. When one party fails to uphold the order, the other may petition the court to enforce the order. Should the court find the non-complying party in contempt, the judge has several options from which to choose to compel the party to comply.
If your ex-spouse is not complying with your divorce order, or your ex has accused you of not complying, call the family law attorneys at Hecht & Associates for help with your case: 301-587-2099. Our experienced contempt attorneys have the expertise to assist you through the legal process.
What is “contempt of court?”
Contempt of court refers to any willful failure to obey a court order. Maryland courts have the legal authority to enforce any orders or decrees they issue. If someone violates the court order, they are “in contempt of the court.” Someone can be in contempt at any stage of the divorce process including after the divorce is finalized.
In order for a judge to consider someone to be in contempt, the following three factors must be true:
- The party knew about the court order.
- The party had the ability to comply with the order.
- The party failed to comply with the terms of the order.
What types of situations might lead to contempt?
Most instances of contempt in family court cases involve failure to pay support or failing to comply with visitation schedules. However, divorces contain a plethora of enforceable details that a party may intentionally violate and potentially be held in contempt for. Some examples include:
- Failing to pay alimony
- Failing to pay child support
- Failing to put the marital home up for sale
- Failing to provide information or a signature for a QDRO
- Failing to keep medical or life insurance (for the children)
- Failing to pay for education or daycare
- Failing to sign over property, e.g., the car title
- Failing to vacate the family home
- Failing to allow access/visitation with the children
- Failing to return the children in the allotted timeframe
What options does someone have if they have been accused of contempt?
If your ex has filed contempt charges against you, you will need to appear in court to state your case. If you fail to appear in court, MD Rules, Rule 15-207 (c)(2) provides that “the court may enter an order directing a sheriff or other peace officer to take custody of and bring the alleged contemnor before the court or judge designated in the order.”
At the hearing, you will have an opportunity to prove to the court that either 1) you did not violate the order and are therefore not in contempt, or 2) you were not capable of upholding the order due to circumstances beyond your control.
For example, if your ex files a petition for contempt with the court because you failed to pay child support, you can either show the court receipts that prove you did pay the support, or perhaps proof that you lost your job and were unable to pay due to lack of income.
What penalties can the judge impose if someone is in contempt?
Maryland family court judges have several options at their disposal in contempt cases. Incarceration is an option, but they usually only resort to that in serious cases where the non-complying party was willfully obstinate. The court’s main priority is to compel the party to comply. They will generally will use one or more of the following routes to do this:
- In failure to make payment cases, the court can enter a judgment against the non-paying party.
- If the case involves failing to pay support, alimony, or other monetary awards, the court can order seizure of the non-complying party’s property.
- If the violation is in regards to failure to provide documents to transfer property, the courts may assign a third party to execute the transfer.
When the contempt specifically involves failure to pay child support, there are a lot of additional repercussions the courts can impose. These include withholding workers’ compensation awards, intercepting tax refunds, reporting non-compliance to the credit bureaus, garnishing paychecks, revoking a professional license, and denying a passport.
Can Hecht & Associates help me with my contempt case?
Regardless of if you are the complainant or the non-complying party, if you are having difficulties with your divorce in Maryland, Hecht & Associates can help. Call us today at 301-587-2099 for a consultation with a contempt attorney to see how we may be of service to you.