Served With Civil Contempt Summons: What’s Next?
When you go through a divorce or child custody dispute in Maryland, a judge will supervise the process, making sure that both sides are following the rules. The judge has broad discretion to make determinations and render “orders,” which are legal documents that must be followed. For the most part, people generally obey court orders, even if they don’t like it. Despite the fact that most people do what they are required to do, family law cases are highly emotional and tend to lend themselves to post-judgment disputes, and many people unfortunately use contempt cases as a form of harassment to get their way or skew a judge’s view of a case. If you are served with a contempt citation, here is what you should know.
What is Contempt?
When a judge orders something and someone violates the order, it’s contempt. However, the judge won’t automatically know this unless someone brings it to the court’s attention. This process is called a citation for contempt. Per Section 1-202 of the Maryland Code, a court can use a contempt citation to compel a party to do something or to punish a party for willful violations. The person who is making the allegation must draft a formal petition, file it with the court, and have a copy individually served on the accused party.
Criminal vs. Civil Contempt?
If you intentionally violate a court’s order, you will likely face civil contempt. This is a proceeding where the judge will force you to come to court and “show cause” why you did not comply. It’s important to note that a finding of civil contempt is designed to enforce compliance and make you do what you are ordered to do. Criminal contempt is designed to sanction or punish bad behavior. Courts generally reserve this for situations where your behavior is repeated and without any justification.
What Types of Orders Do People Usually Violate?
Just about anything you can think of can become a contempt proceeding. Basically, if a court can order it, a person can violate it. In general, however, the most common contempt proceedings tend to be:
- Not bringing children back on time after visitation
- Not allowing court-ordered visitation
- Not paying child support
- Not paying alimony
- Violating protective orders
- Stalking or being around the other person after being ordered not to
- Not returning property that was divided in divorce
- Not executing documents, like deeds or title transfers after a divorce
- Not maintaining health insurance for children after being ordered to do so
- Removing children from the state without permission
How Do People Misuse Contempt Citations?
If you are 6 months behind and paying only half of what was ordered, then a judge will likely want an explanation as to why you are not (or cannot) pay as ordered. This would be a valid reason for a contempt citation. But if you are 3 days late paying your child support or showed up a little late dropping off your child after a visitation, due to bad traffic, this is not a good reason for a contempt citation. Technically you are in contempt, but a judge will likely do nothing more than remind you to be better about it in the future or give yourself more time for the drive.
Sadly, some people feel that dragging their ex before a judge for every minor infraction will “prove” something or help them in some way. On the contrary, a skilled family law attorney can help you fight these frivolous contempt citations. If they are bad enough, the person bringing them could be held in contempt for misusing the court process.
The key is knowing your options. Get the answers and representation you need when it counts the most. Call the Law Offices of Todd K. Mohink, P.A. to schedule a private consultation to discuss your situation today.