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Friday, December 08, 2017

Contempt & Modifications

Written by  Atty. Valerie E. Anias

Some legal terms you’ll want to know!

You’ve gotten divorced or filed suit for custody and support, the judge made his or her determination and you received a court order outlining that decision.  What happens when one person decides not to listen?   What happens if one person loses their job? Circumstances change especially for those families who divorced while their children were young.

What is contempt? Contempt is when one party decides to act in contradiction of the court or court order.  The very purpose of receiving a court order is to once and – hopefully – for all settle a dispute between the parties.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen.  That intentional decision to ignore or act inconsistently with a court order is important because it qualifies the contempt as willful.  Being in willful contempt of a court order can have serious ramifications.  The contempt-ing party may be subject to a fine, attorney fees, and in serious cases, jail.

The contempt-ing party also creates various consequences for the other party.  For example, say a provision of the order requires Parent A to pay one-half of private school tuition to the school directly and Parent A refuses to pay.  If Parent A refuses to pay their share of the child’s private tuition than Parent B may have to come out-of-pocket for the balance and, if they can’t, their child may not be able to return the following year.  These and similar situations wreak havoc – financially and emotionally – for the party who correctly abides by the court order.

What is a modification? A modification is a request that the court modify a previous court order as a result of various changes such as one parent moving, losing a job, getting a substantial promotion, abuse, etc. The most important element of a modification is that there must be a material change in circumstance.  A parent getting a new job but maintaining a similar salary or moving to another home in the same neighborhood are generally not considered a material change in circumstance.

In those situations where there has been a material change in circumstance such as one parent has received a significant raise, has moved far away, or has started a relationship with a questionable person, then there may be cause to receive the modification.  When these material changes occur, the Court can then evaluate whether the original order is still in the best interests of your child.

Contempt & modifications – Sometimes contempt proceedings turn into a modification. For example, perhaps a parent is refusing to communicate with another parent regarding their child’s school or medical information. The may find that parent in contempt but may also modify in court the previous Order to provide the other parent with sole legal custody. Frequently parties see that with a contempt comes a modification.

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