THEY TOLD ME I DID NOT HAVE TO PAY CHILD SUPPORT: Just because you do not agree with the court’s order is never a reason to disregard the order. Many people come to my office and are surprised when their ex-spouse files contempt against them because they did not do something that was in the final settlement agreement or parenting plan. Their ex spouse agreed one day that they would take less support or that they would not ask for a payment for daycare or medical bills. Their ex spouse agreed that they did not want visitation and agreed you were not denying this visitation. You feel strongly that the children are being mistreated and to return them to the other parent would be harmful so you decide to not return them per the parenting plan. Often the intentions of the party being sued for contempt are assumed to be agreed on by the other party or for a greater cause; however, this is not how the court will interpret a contempt action.
Contempt and Child Support
The burden of contempt is very simple, the court ordered something to be done and the party under that order chose not to do it for whatever reason. This is why when you agree to alternate a plan or forgive support it is important to get this in writing. This will not eliminate a finding of contempt nor act as a modification of the order but it will keep you from being found in willful contempt. The burden for the movant in a contempt action seeking sanctions is willful, which means intentional and with disregard for the order of the court. More importantly you should seek a modification long before the other party can seek a contempt. Never assume your action is within the spirit or intent of the order, never assume what you are doing was intended by the court. The court will enforce its orders very narrowly and if it is stated that you will do something and did not you will be in contempt.
Modification of Child Support
If you lose your job and can no longer pay support, get a modification of support regardless of what the other party agrees to; if you do not wish for the other party to see the children because they are living with someone of dubious character then seek a modification of custody. A contempt is a difficult case to defend unless there is a valid reason. If the children truly are in danger or you truly are unable to work then the court usually will not find you in contempt but if you wait for a long period of time and do not modify the order and bring the issue to the courts intention the court may find that the issue is being manipulated and there is willful contempt.
On the other hand, when you choose to file a contempt make certain that the order clearly states what or what not the other party should do per the order. Often I deal with and have contempts dismissed because an attorney, for whatever reason, brings and action that interprets the intentions of the court or completely states something was to be done that is not in the order at all. The order must clearly state what action is to be performed or not performed, by whom and by when.
Just remember that the documents prepared by your lawyer and incorporated into the order of the court were written and filed for a purpose; whatever you do outside of those documents in disregard of that order can and will eventually be used against you.
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