Generally, if one parent is not following a court-ordered parenting agreement, your choice of legal action is to file a petition for contempt. If a parenting agreement is reached by the parties, that agreement is usually incorporated into a Consent Order or Judgment of Divorce. You will have not just an agreement, but a court order. The remedy for someone who is not following that order is to file a petition for contempt.
A petition for contempt is simply one party notifying the court that the other party is not following the court order. When you file, you will get a show cause order that you must have served on the opposing party with your petition, directing them to appear in court for a hearing. The court will set a hearing at which the other party has to explain themselves. During this hearing, the party who filed the petition for contempt must prove the other party has willfully violated the agreement and court order.
If the court finds the party in contempt—that they did violate the agreement and did so willfully—the court must order a sanction (a punishment) and also set a ‘purge’ or a direction that if completed will release the party in contempt from the sanction. The types of orders that you can get for contempt are somewhat limited. The court cannot modify your custody order because of contempt. They can give make-up time to one party or make small additions, like determining exchanges will take place at 6 pm instead of 7 pm, but they can’t make a change in custody. Often the court will order the party in contempt to comply with the previous order and set a follow up conference to make sure they have done so.
In extreme circumstances the court can order jail time for contempt. If the party filing the petition for contempt is asking for jail time, then the person alleged to be in contempt has a right to be represented by an attorney.
In serious matters of violating an agreement, the remedy is contempt. If it’s less serious, perhaps something that bothers you but isn’t a huge deal, you can talk to the other party and possibly amend your agreement. For example, if the other party is continuously 15 minutes late for pick up, is that a problem worth dragging them back to court? What is the court going to do to solve that problem for you? Perhaps this is something you can talk to the other party to resolve, perhaps with an amendment to the existing agreement.
Oftentimes, if you had an attorney with you when you reached the agreement initially, or when the order was passed, you can call your attorney to discuss the matter. They can reach out to the opposing counsel and resolve the issue without having to go back to court.
When Will Child Support Be Awarded During a Divorce Process or If Parents Are Not Raising a Child Together?
Generally, you do not get an order for child support until you have a trial. Once you file a complaint for divorce and you’ve asked the court to order child support, the court will order child support, unless there are extenuating circumstances, but not until you have a hearing or trial. You must first prove your case, while the other party puts on their case. In the end, the court is going to order child support if either party asked for it, but it could be as much as six to twelve months, or longer before you get child support.
When you file your complaint for a divorce, around the time of your scheduling conference—so early in the case—you can ask the court for a temporary hearing, or a pendente lite hearing. At that hearing, the court can order temporary child support, if it’s appropriate in the case. The temporary child support will start at the time of the hearing and go until your final hearing or trial when they make the final decision on child support.
When the court does make the final decision on child support, they can order the child support to be effective retroactively, back to the date the case was filed and originally requested. If you file a complaint for divorce, asking for child support in July and you don’t end up in front of a judge until December, the judge can order that support be retroactive back to July. That doesn’t mean the opposing party is going to necessarily have to pay a big lump sum of money, but they may be paying a little extra each month towards that retroactive support order.
When I have a divorce case, if my client is likely going to end up paying child support, I generally advise my client to start making payments. We get an estimate of how much child support will be and just start paying to make everything easier going forward. They make payments to the other party, calling it child support, to get a credit for the amount paid later.
For more information on Divorce Law in Maryland, a free initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (443) 300-2335 today.