When a divorce is finalized, a divorce decree outlines essential information about the court’s decision. A divorce decree is an enforceable order by the court that both parties are legally mandated to follow.
Items outlined can include payment of child support or spousal support, a transfer of property, or specific visitation schedules. Unfortunately, too often, parties neglect or elect to ignore the outlined orders. This can greatly harm a party who is dependent on support or waiting to receive assets being divided. While the penalties to the offending party for these transgressions can be severe (financial sanctions, payment of filing party’s attorney’s fees), the spouse being affected is required to take the affirmative step of filing a Complaint for Contempt in order for relief to be granted.
A contempt of court charge can be filed against a transgressor in violation of a court order if certain conditions are met. These conditions include:
- a valid order from the court
- awareness of the outlined order by both parties
- evidence of the transgressor knowingly violating a court order
The Plaintiff (aggrieved party) must also prove that the Order was clear and unequivocal. Penalties will vary on a case-by-case basis. However, common penalties include the payment of fines, legal fees, and even jail time in addition to Orders to ensure the Defendant complies with the original Orders.
Many people think that the Courts are currently closed due to COVID-19. That is not accurate. While the Courts are closed to personal appearances by the general public, matters are being heard virtually by telephone or video conference. Even if your Contempt cannot get heard immediately, it is still crucial that you file so that your case is heard sooner once the Court resumes greater hearing capacity. All of the cases that were continued or filed but placed on hold during the reduced functioning of the Court will be heard before cases that are filed after the Courts permit in person hearings again.
If you feel your ex-spouse is in violation of a court order, you need an attorney who understands Massachusetts Family and Divorce law. Some individuals attempt to resolve issues directly with their former spouse. However, any agreement made cannot be enforced by the courts.
If you have questions and would like to speak with a experienced Massachusetts family law attorney, please contact our office.