Sunday, September 13, 2009

Contempt of Family Court Orders Can Result in Jail - Lots of It

A recent Michigan Court of Appeals decision highlights the powers family court judges have in enforcing their orders.

In Powers v Powers, the Wayne County Family Court jailed a Massachusetts woman for her refusal to abide by a series of parenting orders.  She was given the option of paying more than $4000 in sanctions that had built-up in the case, or serve two days in the Wayne County Jail. 

This case, and hundreds like it across the state, highlight the power of family court judges to govern family actions once the court has jurisdiction over the family members.

The appellant's assertion that a court's powers of contempt were criminal and thus, could not be exercised in family court was rejected by the Court of Appeals.

This past summer, perhaps the most striking example of a family court's contempt powers gained national attention.  A Philadelphia, PA corporate attorney spent 14-years, yes that's Fourteen Years, in jail on a contempt charge based on his failure to pay his ex-spouse 2.5 million in a divorce settlement.  More details on this interesting use of a family court's contempt powers, along with commentary, is attached in this link

There has long been a debate among attorneys regarding the contempt powers of family court judges.  These powers are particularly disruptive/intrusive in matters of custody and parenting time.  Most family court judges mete out contempt punishments sparingly, and as a last resort.  Often, family law attorneys counsel clients in ways that avoid the drama of contempt proceedings and show cause hearings.  Sometimes, however, a party needs to be forced back to the fold.

If you would like your divorce judgment reviewed, or go over other options you may have based on the family court orders entered in your case, contact our office.


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