Tonight’s post about Contempt Wars was written by our Atlanta divorce attorney, Dina Khismatulina.
The Final Divorce Decree is entered, custody arrangements are determined, child support is calculated according to the Georgia guidelines, and a detailed parenting plan is in place. Time to move on, stop obsessing over your ex-husband or wife, get used to sharing custody of your children, and enjoy your life?”
Absolutely yes”- would say majority of people. “Let me see how else I can make my ex’s life a living hell” – would say some others and…file a contempt action. And so the war of contempts has begun, the great sword is unsheathed and the slashing commences.
The contempt action is a powerful weapon in the arsenal of legal actions. In essence, contempt is not a new lawsuit, even though a petition for contempt could be filed. It is, strictly speaking, a motion that allows a party to ask the court to enforce an order and make the other party to comply with such order.
But a motion for contempt has to be used wisely. There must be an actual violation of a court order, for example, one parent is denying visitation with the children. Otherwise the action will be frivolous and attorneys’ fees under O.C.G.A. § 9-15-14 could be awarded to the other party.
In general, a contempt action must be filed in the county where the violated order was entered. There are some exceptions; for example, if a modification is filed (which must be filed in the Defendant’s county of residence), the contempt action could be filed in the same county, even though it was not the county which entered the order. Also remember that the opposing party has to be served with the contempt action by a sheriff or any other qualified process server.
Another reason to thoroughly plan your motion for contempt in a custody case is that even though in Georgia judges cannot modify custody permanently at a contempt hearing, they can alter the visitation schedule. Additionally, judges can temporarily change custody in a hearing set to hear contempt.
Both parties’ behavior is usually scrutinized by the judge in a contempt action, so full compliance on your part is a must if you want to bring a contempt action, otherwise your plan can backfire.
Overall, a contempt action, when planned and executed correctly, is a very effective compliance and enforcement mechanism. Have an experienced family law attorney help you through the contempt, otherwise, your sword could be used against you.