Enforcement of a Court Order or Judgment

What happens if someone disobeys a court order or judgment?

A valid order entered in a divorce case or judgment of dissolution of marriage should be abided by all parties.  Clients and potential clients come in complaining that the husband or former husband is not paying his alimony or child support obligation or that the wife or former wife is not allowing him time sharing with the children.  You can only imagine how people find ways to torture one another.  Sometimes there is a legitimate reason.  Oftentimes, not.

If you have an order or judgment that allows you relief and requires the other party to either pay you or to do something – whatever that may be – and the order is clear and unambiguous, meaning not open to more than one interpretation, and that party willfully refuses to obey, then a motion to enforce the order or judgment or even a motion for contempt may be in order.

If an order is being disobeyed while a case is pending – before entry of the final judgment (could be dissolving the marriage or for paternity or even some other cause of action), then enforcement or contempt would be brought to the attention of the court by motion – a formal request for action by the court.  The motion would be filed with the clerk of court, served on the opposing party and scheduled for hearing before the court.  Some courts require motions to be mediated before a hearing is scheduled.  Most do not require mediation as a prerequisite to a hearing.  At the hearing, which would be specially set and is evidentiary – a mini trial of sorts – the court would consider admissible evidence presented by the moving party and any admissible evidence in opposition to the motion, listen to argument of counsel and decide the fate of the alleged violator.

A party who willfully disobeys a valid court order can also be held in contempt of court.  Contempt of court comes in two flavors:  civil contempt and criminal contempt.

Civil contempt is intended to coerce compliance with a court order.  For instance, the father has a child support obligation and is not paying or is not paying timely.  The court can order him jailed and order a purge – an amount of money he must pay in order to get out of jail.  Civil contempt is not intended to punish the father, although jail is often thought of as punishment.  Rather, when ordered to jail it is said that the jailed party holds the keys to the jail cell door.  In other words, he controls his own fate.  The court would not order the father to jail unless he was convinced, based on the admissible evidence presented, that father was aware of the order and willfully failed to abide it while having the ability to do so.  If father argues that he lost his job and was involuntarily unemployed and otherwise without funds to make the child support payments and the court believed him, it would be inappropriate to send him to jail.  That does not mean the money is not owed and that a money judgment would not issue in mother’s favor.  However, if a party legitimately is unable to comply with a court order – i.e. failure to abide it was not willful – contempt would not follow.

There are a number of sound strategies to enforce court orders and judgments.  Let Miller Law help you with your enforcement and contempt matter.


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Mediation is an alternate dispute resolution process where the parties and counsel meet in a confidential, non adversarial setting with a trained neutral – the mediator – who identifies the disputed issues and attempts to assist the parties to find common ground, i.e. a resolution of all or some of those issues without telling them what the resolution should be. Mediation is not a trial. Nobody forces a result on anyone. No judgments are made. Rather, it is designed for parties to listen, contemplate different points of view and risks of having a judge, a perfect stranger to them, cramming a result down their throats without knowing them or their situation other than the few minutes he will hear the case in court.  All cases must be mediated before there is a trial, the reason being that most cases actually settle in mediation.  Self determination is a key component to mediation.

If an agreement is reached during a mediation conference, the agreement will get reduced to writing, reviewed by the parties and each of them will sign it.  Once signed the agreement will be filed with the court and submitted to the judge for approval and adoption as an order of the court.

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