Just as a Final Judgment is often not really “final,” and certain provisions can be modified later, other post-judgment actions may also be appropriate, among them enforcement and contempt. Because the final judgment will often require the ongoing compliance with the court’s order, there may be times when you will need to request that the court force the other party to comply. Conversely, you may find that you are unable to comply. Common matters subject to enforcement actions are parenting plan violations, including but not limited to parental responsibility and timesharing, failure to pay child support, failure to pay attorneys fees, failure to abide by the terms of the final judgment with regard to property distribution, and failure to pay court-ordered alimony. Although a court cannot modify certain parts of the final judgment, the court can enforce them. Matters related to children and support are most often addressed in contempt proceedings. However, if the agreement or final judgment is not specific enough, contempt may not be an available remedy, but that doesn’t mean that the court order cannot be enforced. The question is whether it is enforceable by the court’s contempt powers.
For someone to be found in contempt, there must:
(1) be an order;
(2) the order must be specific enough to clearly identify what must or must not be done; and
(3) the party who has failed to comply with the order has done so willfully, meaning they had the ability to comply but chose not to. In that event, the court may use its coercive powers to force compliance with its order.
Although there are various types of contempt proceedings, in family law, the most common would be an indirect civil contempt action. If a person is held in contempt, they are subject to significant legal consequences including but not limited to incarceration, fines, and other sanctions, the purpose of which is to force compliance. In an enforcement proceeding, where the court does not have contempt powers, the court has the ability to coerce compliance but not through incarceration. Orders related to property settlement, for example, are not subject to the contempt powers of the court. If you are subject to a court order that you do not understand or you are unable to comply with, please contact me to schedule an appointment so that we can discuss the options available to you. Conversely, if you are seeking compliance by the other party, please contact me to talk about the available avenues of enforcement.