I have a contempt trial tomorrow morning. I do a lot of these. I am appointed by the domestic court judges to defend some and just as often I find myself trying to hold someone in contempt of an order. There are plenty of motions to hold someone in contempt of Court, usually filed by unrepresented people, that are basically just angry people trying to get back at the spouse who got custody of the children or won an alimony award or something of that nature.
More often, however, these hearings are necessary because someone simply refuses to do what they were ordered to do. It is usually about money–a failure to pay child support or alimony. Sometimes it is about custody when one parent refuses to allow the other to have visitation. Whatever the issue, however, the courts spend a vast amount of time on making people do what they were ordered to do in the first place. And the domestic court judges are not kind to those that they feel are able to comply with an order and refuse to do so. People end up in jail, or lose custody of their children. I have some very basic advice for anyone who has a court order–whether it be for money, or to transfer property, or to follow a visitation schedule–these orders are not suggestions or strong encouragement. These are orders and the State wields pretty vast power when it comes to making you follow them. The punishment for refusing to obey an order typically outweighs the cost of following one. So, do yourself a favor when faced with the decision as to whether to pay the child support, or take the kids to a custody exchange, or sign that deed–if you were ordered to do it, do it. The penalties for refusing are harsh. The Wake County Jail is not a fun place to spend the week or the month only to get out and have to pay the other side’s attorney’s fees and do what you refused to do in the first place. And make no mistake, if you refuse to obey an order and the other party decides they’ve had enough and is determined to hold you in contempt they usually succeed in doing so. The Court is not easily fooled. There will be someone like me there with you on the witness stand and a stack of documents from your employer or the school or anyone else who can show that you could but didn’t do the right thing, and it usually ends badly.
And for those of you with a court order that the other side ignores–don’t let them get away with it. Enforce your orders. Hold the other party to account. These orders were entered by the Judge because he or she thought it was the right thing to do, and if you don’t enforce it you are not acting in your on best interest or your children’s best interest. So I’m off to bed and then off to trial to hold someone in contempt, and I have a stack of documents that will make them look bad and I don’t think it’s going to go well for them. If the defendant had taken the easy way out by following the order in the first place, there wouldn’t be a trial tomorrow and I could sleep a little later. But as things stand now, I’m not going to make it easy for the defendant. This party had every chance to do the right thing and didn’t. As a result, I have very little sympathy for this defendant. None at all, in fact.