"...contempt proceedings are quasi-criminal in nature and often implicate constitutional rights."
What is Contempt?
While a party may get orders from the Court all day long, enforcing them is often an even more difficult task.
Contempt is amongst the most popular enforcement proceedings available for enforcing almost any order. Contempt is most frequently used to enforce orders directing a party to pay support or other obligations to another party, and to perform a task within the party’s ability to perform. In general, a party may pursue either remedial contempt sanctions or punitive contempt sanctions. A party may also pursue contempt sanctions in conjunction with other enforcement proceedings such as enforcing parenting time orders. In any event, because fines and imprisonment are amongst the available sanctions, contempt proceedings are quasi-criminal in nature and often implicate constitutional rights.
The most popular contempt proceedings sought are remedial sanctions because
the moving party most often wants the other party to perform and act or comply with an order. The moving party must file a motion or complaint ex parte (without notice) to acquire an order for the other party to show cause why the Court should not find him/her in contempt for violating a court order. If the Court is persuaded by the motion, the Court will issue a citation to show cause, which must be personally served on the offending party, and the matter will be set for an advisement. At the advisement, the offending party will be advised of his/her rights and he/she will plead guilty or not guilty. The matter will then be sent for a contempt hearing. In a remedial contempt proceeding, the moving party has the burden to establish by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not) that the offending party had knowledge of the order and the present ability to comply. If he/she succeeds, the burden will shift to the offending party to establish that he/she lacks the ability to comply. If the Court finds the offending party in contempt, the Court must provide a purge clause, which identifies the manner in which the offending party may purge the contempt. The Court has the option to imprison the offending party for up to six months but only until the party performs and not to punish the party. The Court may also award the moving party attorney’s fees and costs in remedial contempt proceedings.
“…the moving party has the burden to establish that the offending party willfully disregarded the Court’s orders beyond a reasonable doubt…”
In cases where performance is no longer possible or when a party has offended the dignity of the Court so significantly, a party may seek both remedial and punitive contempt sanctions. Punitive contempt sanctions include fines and imprisonment for up to six months strictly to punish the offending party. As a result, the moving party has the burden to establish that the offending party willfully disregarded the Court’s orders beyond a reasonable doubt, the same standard as in a criminal matter. Attorney’s fees are not available as a punitive contempt sanction.
A party is not precluded from pursuing both remedial and contempt sanctions. However, in order to protect the offending party’s rights, the Court will usually bifurcate the proceedings and hear the punitive case first and then the remedial case. As in a criminal case, the offending party enjoys a right against self-incrimination. However, unlike a criminal case, the Court may draw negative inferences that can be used against the offending party in a civil case. Contempt actions are not necessarily the most efficient and quickest proceedings to secure compliance with the Court’s orders. However, they can be effective tools to be used either separately or in conjunction with other enforcement proceedings. Let us help you find the right option to meet your needs and goals.
Attorney Márquez’s extensive experience in high conflict, complex financial, and high asset family law cases affords him the unique ability to help parties find detailed and often creative solutions to solve their cases. He is an empathetic and active listener, but more importantly, he is honest, practical and effective. Less time is spent on rehashing the conflict than on understanding the conflict to formulate options that lead to resolutions.
We look forward to assisting you find ways to resolve your complex cases efficiently and fairly.