To complete your divorce, parenting plan and child support, a judge will ultimately sign final orders. Once executed, the Final Divorce Order, Parenting Plan, and Child Support Order are binding and enforceable by law. What happens if one party fails to abide by the terms of the judicial order? Nothing, unless you take specific action to request aid from the court. This can take the shape of a Motion to Enforce or the more complicated Motion for Contempt.
Typically, a single violation will lead an attorney to file a Motion to Enforce the Order. Essentially, you must establish that the opposing party has failed to abide by the terms of the agreement and that is all. If the Order is valid and there is evidence to establish the other party’s failings, a judge will often grant an Order to Enforce. If the failing was for child support, this may include a judgment for the full amount of the arrears, which builds interest at 12% on average. If the failing included missed visitation, the judge would often require makeup visitation time.
If the opposing party continues to disregard the court Order or acts maliciously or in bad faith with regards to the terms of the agreement, what then? Washington law allows a party to initiate a Motion for Contempt. If the evidence establishes that the noncomplying party intentionally violated the Order (often construed as requiring bad faith), remedial and punitive measures may be taken. In other words, the judge might allow for makeup time and a judgment for arrears but also for monetary penalties or even jail if the noncompliance is substantial.
To initiate a contempt hearing, you often start with a Motion for Contempt Hearing. This may be filed ex parte, and if the judge or commissioner agrees, the court will issue an Order to Go to Court for Contempt Hearing, which is also known as an Order to Show Cause. This Order – along with the documents provided to the judge – must be personally served on the noncomplying party with proper time according to local rules. You must then appear on the ordered date to seek an Order of Contempt. If the other party fails to appear, you must still appear to make your argument. If the defending party does appear, they will have the opportunity to show cause as to why a contempt should not be ordered.
Contempt of court is a severe remedy that should not be taken lightly. Judges do not like finding parties in contempt and will often err on the side of caution in rendering contempt decisions. It may be in your best interests to take less drastic action until there is sufficient evidence to support the intentionality required at a contempt hearing. The qualified litigators at the law office of Magnuson Lowell, P.S. have the experience necessary to advise you in your time of need.