Enforcement of Court Orders, Separation Agreements, and Other Family Law Contracts
If a party violates a court order, signed by a judge, as it relates to a family law matter, the other party may have the right to file a motion to show-cause.
A motion to show-cause is filed by the non-breaching party for a violation of a court order. A judge may issue an order on the motion to show-cause that would require the breaching party to appear in court and explain to the judge their reasons for not following the order. If the judge finds that the breaching party was in willful violation of the court order, then the judge may hold that party in contempt.
Civil Contempt- A judge may find a party to be in civil contempt if the court finds that:
- The Order in question remains in force;
- That the purpose of the Order may still be served by the person’s compliance with the Order;
- That the person’s failure to comply with Order is willful; and,
- That the person has the present ability to comply with the Order.
Upon the finding of civil contempt, the judge may order that the breaching party come into compliance with the order, if possible, within a designated period of time and if the party does not or potentially jail time until they comply with the Court order. A judge may also order the party found in civil contempt to pay fines or the Attorney’s fees of the other party. Civil contempt is intended to encourage parties to comply with an existing court order.
Criminal Contempt- A judge may find a party in criminal contempt if the court finds the party wilfully violated a court order. A judge may order the breaching party to pay a fine of up to $500.00, make a public censure, or the judge may also order the party to spend up to thirty (30) days in jail for their misconduct resulting in a criminal conviction for the conduct. Criminal contempt is intended to punish a person for conduct that has already occurred, specifically their willful violation of a court order.
Damages are the monetary value of harm caused by a person not complying with a court order or other agreement. Usually this is a number that can be calculated as a specific amount of money. Sometimes the damages caused by a person’s actions cannot be fixed with a monetary value. If that is the case, a court may be able to order specific performance.
Specific performance can be ordered by a court when money damages are inadequate to address the wrong committed by the other party. For example, if a party to a Separation Agreement does not fulfill one of their obligations to sign a deed to the marital home to the other party. The issue cannot be resolved with money damages; rather, the injured party would petition the court to force the other party to sign the deed through specific performance.
Oftentimes, parties involved in marital relationships choose to voluntarily enter into Separation Agreements out-of-court to resolve matters involving marital property, child custody, child support, alimony, and many other issues. If one party fails to do what that contractually agreed to do in a Separation Agreement, the other party may file a breach of contract action with the court to enforce the contract. Depending on the nature of the violation and the remedies specified in the signed agreement, a court may order the party that violated the agreement to pay money damages or perform a specific act to make the other party whole.