When parties divorce in Massachusetts, a Judgment of Divorce Nisi will enter ninety days before the divorce becomes absolute, or final. If the parties executed a Separation Agreement in connection with their divorce, that Separation Agreement will be incorporated into the Judgment of Divorce and become an Order of the Court. If the parties actually have a trial in connection with their divorce, the Court will make an Order after that trial, based on the evidence offered at trial. Whether by agreement of the parties or by order of Court after trial, the Order will address specific items relevant to that particular case. The Order may include an order to pay child support or spousal support; or the transfer of property from one spouse to the other spouse. The Order may also include a specific visitation (or parenting) schedule for the non-custodial parent. Too often, former spouses may elect to ignore the Court’s Orders which can create numerous problems for the other party and/or children. The way to make the Court aware that one party is not complying with an Order is to file a Complaint for Contempt in the same Court that entered the Judgment/Order at issue. That complaint, along with a Summons, must be served upon the offending party. The Court will usually schedule a hearing a few weeks after the complaint has been filed. If the non-complying person is found in contempt of the Order by the Court, the penalties to the offending party can be severe.
What do I have to prove?
In order to be successful in an action for contempt, the following must be proved to the Court:
- The Order at issue is the current Order.
- The defendant is aware of the Order.
- The defendant has not complied with the terms of the Order.
- The defendant is able to comply with the Order.
What are some possible outcomes?
Depending on the facts of the case and the judge assigned to the case, the outcome can vary significantly. Some possible outcomes include:
- An Order that the defendant is in contempt of court.
- An Order that the defendant pay the plaintiff’s attorney’s fees and costs in connection with the contempt action.
- Incarceration. While this may seem harsh, some defendants will face jail time for deliberately and repeatedly ignoring court orders.
Oftentimes divorced parties will try to resolve any conflict short of filing a Complaint for Contempt so as to avoid more time in Court and the additional legal fees. However, any verbal agreements between the parties may not be binding in light of the fact that it is not an Order of the Court and may, in fact, be contradictory to the existing Order. It would be prudent for the non-offending party to speak with a family law attorney to discuss the case and any options he/she may have if the other party is refusing to comply with a current Order.
If you have questions and would like to speak with an attorney, please call our office to schedule an appointment.