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Contempt and Enforcement

DILIGENT REPRESENTATION FOR ATLANTA RESIDENTS IN FAMILY LAW MATTERS

One of the mechanisms available to enforce Georgia family court orders is a contempt and enforcement proceeding. If you are seeking to use this mechanism or are in danger of having it used against you, you should consult family law attorney Thomas C. Rowsey. He has extensive experience assisting individuals throughout the Atlanta region in a broad variety of matters. Many of our clients have come from Roswell, Sandy Springs, Johns Creek, Marietta, and other communities in Fulton, Cobb, and DeKalb Counties.

ENFORCING A COURT ORDER

Going through a divorce is always difficult, not only because of the emotional turmoil for the individuals involved but also because of the stress of having to reach an agreement with an estranged spouse regarding division of assets, spousal support, child custody, and child support. Unfortunately, however, overcoming these burdensome hurdles does not always set the stage for a hassle-free future. All too often, final divorce orders may need to be enforced when one spouse does not comply with them.

Because this happens so often, Georgia law has provided that parties can seek to enforce certain divorce orders through contempt and enforcement proceedings. The term “contempt” has a special legal meaning. Essentially, it refers to the offense of disobeying or disrespecting a court in a way that offends its authority and dignity. When one of the parties to a divorce decree does not comply with orders regarding certain matters, he or she may be subject to a contempt finding because that party is essentially defying the court.

In Georgia family law, contempt proceedings may be brought only for matters related to non-compliance with court orders regarding:

  • Division of assets;
  • Payment of alimony (spousal support);
  • Payment of child support;
  • Child custody or visitation; or
  • Relocation of a child without the court’s permission.

However, it is important to note that failure to comply with an order does not by itself constitute contempt. In order for contempt to be found, the court order must be valid, the non-compliant party must understand his or her obligations under the order, and the violation of the order must be willful and intentional. Willfulness means that the offender was aware of the violation and had the ability to comply with the order yet deliberately defied it.

CONTEMPT HEARINGS

The private party who is the beneficiary of the court order must bring the contempt proceeding by filing a petition for enforcement. After a hearing date is set, the party against whom the action is filed, known as the respondent, must be given adequate notice of the hearing.

At the hearing, the petitioner must present documentary or other evidence to the court to prove his or her case as to every element of contempt, and the respondent must similarly provide evidence if he or she intends to defend himself or herself. There are several valid defenses for contempt, including that the respondent was financially unable to comply with the order or had a good-faith misunderstanding of what was required under it.

Contempt is a serious matter. A party who cannot comply with a family court order—even if it is for a valid reason—should never simply ignore it and wait until an enforcement action is brought. If contempt is found, not only will the court order that party to remedy any delinquency, but it may impose fines or even jail time. It also may take further steps to ensure that the order is obeyed in the future, even if that requires garnishment of assets, bank accounts, or wages.

DISCUSS YOUR DIVORCE PROCEEDING WITH AN ATLANTA ATTORNEY

Family law issues are sensitive and often emotional. They can have a significant impact on your future, so you should make sure that your rights are properly protected. A smart way to do that is to consult a divorce lawyer who can work diligently to pursue your personal goals. Atlanta attorney Thomas C. Rowsey has helped many individuals with contempt proceedings and other areas of family law. You can reach him by phone at 770-993-5317 or through our online form.