Contempt in the Family Courtby Ponichtera & DeNardis, P.C. on 03/07/11
The filing of a Complaint for Contempt pursuant to M.G.L. c. 215 section 34, is the procedure for enforcing a Court order or judgment in the Commonwealth of the Massachusetts Probate and Family Court. A Contempt Complaint may be either civil or criminal in nature. At the hearing on the Complaint for Contempt the defendant is entitled to an evidentiary hearing, during which time witnesses are called and evidence is introduced. Many cases, by agreement, are conducted upon the representation of the parties or their attorneys - a simplified procedure during which each side tells their side of the story to the judge. There are certainly pros and cons to each respective procedure, which an attorney can advise you on. At the hearing on a complaint for contempt, a plaintiff must prove that there was a clear and unequivocal order, from which there was a clear and unequivocal disobedience. In a contempt proceeding for non payment of a support order, a Defendant may raise as a defense that he had an inability to pay the underlying judgment or order.
In entering a judgment for failure to comply with a money judgment of the Court there is a presumption that the defendant is responsible in addition to all arrears, all of the attorney's fees and costs associated with bringing the Complaint for Contempt. So be sure to make a motion for payment of attorney's fees and costs at the time of the hearing. Interest will also be assessed from the date of the filing of the Complaint for Contempt, so ask for it.
Upon a finding of Contempt, a judge can enter an order for the Defendant to serve a jail sentence, to pay the full amount due under the order or judgment, to make regular payments of support plus an additional amount of arrears, to seek employment, to participate in community service, as well as other remedies.
If you believe that you are entitled to a judgment of Contempt for the failure of another to obey an order or judgment of the Court, or if you have been served with a Complaint for Contempt for your alleged failure to comply with a judgment or order of the Court, contact an attorney today to learn more about your rights and remedies. The law related to contempt actions is complex and often confusing for the non-lawyer. Be sure to seek professional advice first.