January 6, 2009

Contempt Of Court for Parenting Time Violations

As a family law lawyer, I am always surprised how casually some parents take a parenting plan. We hear a lot of stories about the other parent disregarding terms of the parenting plan.  We hear complaints of the other parent returning the children late, failing to return items of clothing, or denying holiday or summer parenting time.   Failure to comply with parenting time orders can carry serious consequences if the other parent takes enforcement action after a willful violation of the parenting plan.  One of the most serious enforcement remedies available for parenting plan violations is “contempt of court.”  Parenting time orders are orders made by the court with the court’s authority.   Willful disobedience of, resistance to, or obstruction of the court’s authority, process, order, or judgment is subject to a contempt motion.  

Private attorneys and parties can bring “remedial” contempt actions for willful parenting plan violations.  A remedial action is the court using its authority to remedy, or fix the non-compliance. A broad range of sanctions are available to get a parent to comply with the parenting plan.  ORS 33.105 specifies what sanctions are available in a contempt action.  Unless there is a contrary statute, the court can impose one or more of the following remedial sanctions:

  1. Payment of a sum of money sufficient to compensate a party for loss, injury or costs suffered by the party as the result of a contempt of court.
  2. Confinement for so long as the contempt continues, or six months, whichever is the shorter period.
  3. An amount not to exceed $500 or one percent of the defendant’s annual gross income, whichever is greater, for each day the contempt of court continues. The sanction imposed under this paragraph may be imposed as a fine or to compensate a party for the effects of the continuing contempt.
  4. An order designed to insure compliance with a prior order of the court, including probation.
  5. Payment of all or part of any attorney fees incurred by a party as the result of a contempt of court.
  6. A sanction other than the sanctions specified in paragraphs (a) to (e) of this subsection if the court determines that the sanction would be an effective remedy for the contempt.

Basically the court has the power to craft any remedy, including jail, to encourage compliance with a court order. 

Liability for contempt can extend even beyond the parties. Third parties that interfere with parenting time orders may be held accountable through contempt.

What to do to avoid a contempt action? When your case is complete, get and retain a copy of your parenting plan.  Read it.  Know what it says.  If you can, communicate with the other parent about parenting time to make sure you are on the same page.  If you want to change the parenting plan and the other parent agrees, confirm the agreement in writing or email.  Don’t unilaterally disregard the parenting plan. What to do if you are served with a contempt action?  Talk to an experienced family law lawyer and get help.  What to do if the other parent won’t follow the parenting plan? Talk to an experienced family law lawyer about what remedies you may have.