ENFORCING A FAMILY LAW ORDER
THE CONTEMPT PROCESS IN MISSOURI FAMILY LAW CASES
The process of filing for a Motion for Contempt in Missouri Family Law cases is complicated. It’s hard enough to figure out how you are going to pay your bills and keep your sanity when your ex is refusing to follow the court order. Below is a breakdown of the contempt process in family law cases. Understanding what to expect and how long it can take will help you take back control of the situation.
THE BEGINNING OF THE CONTEMPT PROCESS
To start the contempt process you need to have a current family law court order with which the opposing party is refusing to comply. It is generally advisable to send a written request to the other party detailing what the order requires, what he or she has failed to do, and requesting that he or she comply with the order. For someone to be found in contempt, the court must find that: 1) They are aware of the order; 2) They are not complying with the order; and 3) They can comply with the order. Once you have requested compliance and it has been ignored, you will need to file a Motion for Contempt, and/or Application for Show Cause Order, along with a blank Show Cause Order. The Show Cause Order will be signed with the judge and will include a date for your hearing. It will order the other party to appear in court on the hearing date and “show cause” why he or she is not complying with the order. The other party must be served with the Motion and Show Cause Order at least seven days prior to the hearing.
We may need to request documents from the other party prior to the show cause hearing. In this case, we would do discovery. Discovery refers to the ability of both parties to formally request information, primarily financial, from the other side. Discovery includes such devices as interrogatories, depositions, and requests for documents. Discovery isn’t always necessary. It depends on the nature of the contempt action.
The best approach to family law litigation is to not make a bad situation worse. No one understands your life like you and your ex. A cookie-cutter order does not work best for most individuals. Many studies show that a negotiated agreement between the parties serves both parties best. An agreement allows the parties to “fine tune” matters between themselves in a way that courts are often unable to do. Usually, there is less legal expense involved in negotiating a settlement than in trying the case in court. Therefore, it is best to work out a settlement if possible. However, there are times when the case does not settle despite everyone’s best efforts. Settlement may be impossible for several reasons, including the unrealistic expectations of the parties, disputes as to the facts or the law, the existence of novel and undecided issues, or the desire on the part of a party to deny a divorce to the spouse. In those instances, a trial may be necessary. If you can reach a settlement, many times you and the opposing party can sign the documents and waive the necessity of a court hearing. Negotiations should begin at the beginning of the case and continue throughout. Sometimes, this process takes one day. Other times, it takes two years. It is hard to predict.
If it does not appear that your case will settle, we will proceed to the show cause hearing. Settlement sometimes occurs just before the hearing, “on the courthouse steps.” If there is no agreement, the matter is contested, and a hearing is necessary. Any documents are copied and cataloged for evidence. You will need to testify. Your attorney will ask questions or you on the record before the judge and a court reporter. The opposing party or an attorney representing the opposing party will also ask questions or you and have an opportunity to present testimony and evidence. Generally, the judge will not decide your case on the hearing date. The judge will tell everything that he or she is taking the case “under advisement.” This means the judge will review the evidence and decide later.
AFTER YOUR JUDGMENT
The court must decide whether the other party is in contempt of the order. If they are in contempt, the court can: 1) order compliance; 2) incarcerate the offender; 3) order the offender to pay your attorney fees; 4) stay (or pause) the contempt finding until or unless the other party performs a specific action and/or pays a sum of money; and/or 5) award a money judgment to you that the offender must pay. If you are awarded a money judgment, you will need to take steps to collect the judgment.