Contempt of Court in Hanover Child Custody Cases
In Massachusetts, the courts issue final orders relating to a child’s care and custody based primarily on the child’s best interests. If parents are able to agree on an arrangement, they may present this to the court, but the judge must give final approval to cause it to have “legal teeth.” Whether ordered by a Court after a hearing or submitted stipulation, once an order has been issued, both parties must abide by it and can face severe consequences if they do not.
Unfortunately, some individuals do not follow these orders as they are written. Perhaps your ex is refusing to return the children to you or they are continuously showing up late for visitation. When one parent fails to follow a court order in this manner, the other party may enforce the terms of the custody order by requesting that the court hold the violating parent in contempt.
Holding someone in contempt of court in Hanover child custody cases is serious and may result in sanctions against the non-compliant parent. Because our child custody attorneys at O’Connor Family Law have over 35 combined years of exclusive family law experience, we can help you through this legal process if you are being held in contempt or if you need help filing a complaint to hold your ex in contempt.
What Does it Mean to be in Contempt of Court?
Contempt is any behavior of an individual that defies or disregards a clear court order. To be found in contempt in a Hanover child custody case, a court must be convinced:
- That there is a valid prior judgment or order that is clear and unequivocal;
- That the offending party knew of the judgment or order; and
- That the offending party willfully disobeyed the judgment or order with no reasonable justification.
If you bring a contempt action to court, you have the burden of proving that there was a prior order that is clear and unequivocal and provide specific examples of when and how that order was violated. The other party then will have the burden of showing why the order was not clear or that he or she was unable to satisfy the responsibilities for a justifiable reason.
To initiate this type of litigation, you must file a request with the court, known as a Complaint for Contempt, and ask the court to hold the non-compliant party in contempt and issue sanctions against them. The contempt action and summons must be served to the other party and, then, they will be given a certain amount of time to respond with an Answer. Then, at the court scheduled hearing, a judge will review the evidence to determine if contempt has occurred and decide what penalties or remedies to award.
Violations of Custody and Visitation Orders in Hanover
There are several ways that a parent may violate a court order and be held in contempt. Some of these actions include:
- Infringing on the other parent’s custodial time, such as repetitively scheduling extracurricular activities during the other parent’s time without their consent.
- Failing to return the children to the other parent at the designated time.
- Interfering with the other parent’s communication with the children, such as refusing to allow the children to call the other parent, intercepting emails, or putting the children on the speakerphone whenever the other parent calls.
In situations where one parent believes the other is violating the custody order, it may be helpful to document all of the other party’s actions relating to custody and visitation. This could be used as evidence in a contempt hearing.
Possible Sanctions of Being Held in Contempt
While the court cannot order a change of custody from one parent to the other during a contempt proceeding, the court may impose certain sanctions if it is convinced that a parent willfully disobeyed a court order. Under Massachusetts General Laws 215 §34, a party found in contempt of a custody order may face jail time. A court may also order the non-compliant party to:
- Provide the other parent with makeup time for any time missed due to the contempt
- Attend parenting classes
- Pay transportation costs for makeup visits
- Pay the compliant parent’s legal fees for filing the contempt
Often, if there is a contempt situation where a change in the prior order is required, then a Complaint for Modification is generally filed hand-in-hand with the Complaint for Contempt to allow the Court to make changes to the prior order. Because of the serious nature of these sanctions, it is essential to consult with a knowledgeable custody attorney in Hanover before appearing in court for a contempt hearing.
Speak with a Hanover Child Custody Attorney About Being Held in Contempt of Court
As the contempt process can be complicated, it is important that you hire an attorney if it is being sought that you are held in contempt or if you are trying to initiate these types of proceedings due to your ex’s refusal to follow the orders. A lawyer with experience in contempt proceedings can counsel you on what to include in the complaint, how to gather the appropriate evidence to prove contempt, whether you would be best served to also file for a modification, and represent you in any court hearing. For more information about being held in contempt of court in Hanover child custody cases, call today.