Contempt of Court in New Hampshire Divorce and Parenting Cases
“New Hampshire divorce attorneys are accustomed to filing and defending motions for contempt in divorce and parenting cases.”
Often, the motion for contempt is for failing to follow the final parenting plan. While experienced New Hampshire domestic relations attorneys and divorce lawyers are skilled at addressing motions for contempt, self represented parties often don’t understand what constitutes contempt and how to pursue contempt in New Hampshire family division courts.
What is Contempt in NH Divorce and Parenting Cases?
Contempt means a violation of a court order by one party. The court order being violated is often a final decree of divorce or final parenting plan. Not every violation of a final decree of divorce or final parenting plan constitutes contempt. A violation of a court order becomes contempt when one party acts knowingly and willfully. Knowingly means the party knew his or her actions would result in a violation of the final divorce decree, final parenting plan, etc. Willfully means the party intended to violate the court order in question and did not do so by mistake.
How Does a Party Prove Contempt of Court in NH Divorce and Parenting Cases?
If the divorce or parenting case is still pending, then a party files a Motion for Contempt with the family division court. If the divorce or parenting cases is finished, the party files a Petition for Contempt. In either case, the motion for contempt must explain what provision of the final divorce decree, final parenting plan, etc. was violated. The motion for contempt must show by specific facts when and how the other party violated the court order. The motion for contempt must then list what the party would like the family division court to do to address the contempt of court. The party filing the motion for contempt must sign it under oath with the court where the divorce or parenting case is pending, or was previously pending. The family division court will most likely schedule a thirty minute contempt hearing to consider the motion for contempt.
What Happens at a Contempt of Court Hearing in NH Divorce and Parenting Cases?
At the contempt of court hearing, the party who filed the petition or motion for contempt speaks first. S/he tells the family division judge what provision of the final divorce decree or final parenting plan s/he believes the other party has violated. The party then tells the family division judge how the other party violated the court order and when the violation occurred. Finally, the party tells the family division judge what s/he would like the court to do to address the other party’s contempt. The party can bring witnesses or documents to support his/her petition or motion for contempt.
The other party is then allowed to explain to the family division judge his/her side of the story. The other party tells the family division judge either why his/her actions are not a violation of the final divorce decree or final parenting plan; or, if a violation has occurred, why the violation is not contempt. For example, at contempt hearings involving failure to pay child support, it is common for the person obligated to pay child support to assert his/her present inability to pay and present a financial affidavit that supports this assertion. Witnesses and/or documents may help the party explain why s/he is not in contempt of court.
After the other party is finished speaking, the family division judge will allow the party filing the petition or motion for contempt to respond to the other party’s explanation. Thereafter, the court will tell the parties that it will issue a written order and it will conclude the hearing.
What Happens If You’re Found in Contempt of Court in a New Hampshire Divorce or Parenting Case?
The parties usually receive the family division court’s written order several weeks after they attend the contempt hearing. In the contempt order, the family division court explains why the other party is, or is not, in contempt of the final divorce decree, final parenting plan, etc. If the other party is found in contempt of court, the order will explain what s/he must do in order to no longer be in contempt of court. The family division court usually sets a deadline by which the other party must end the contempt, and describes the consequences if the other party continues to be in contempt of court.
It is important to remember that the family division court is not obligated to find the other party in contempt of court. Rather, it has the discretion to find him/her in contempt of court, or not find him/her in contempt of court. Either party may file a motion for reconsideration with the family division court within ten days after receiving the court’s written contempt order. In a motion for reconsideration, the party must show that the family division court overlooked or misapprehended a point of law or fact and therefore should have ruled differently. Further, either party has thirty days after receiving the written contempt order (or after the family division court rules on motions for reconsideration filed by either party) to appeal it to the New Hampshire Supreme Court. The New Hampshire Supreme Court may, or may not, decide to accept the appeal. The appeals process is outside the scope of this blog post.
Contact Us if You are Dealing with a Petition or Motion for Contempt in a NH Divorce or Parenting Case
We are experienced and aggressive domestic relations attorneys in Portsmouth and Dover New Hampshire who routinely handle contempt issues in NH divorce and parenting cases. We can help you in your contempt case. Contact us and learn why many of our clients consider us to be among the best New Hampshire lawyers who deal with contempt in divorce and parenting cases.