Our office will bring a contempt action against an obligor only after all other enforcement procedures have been exhausted, and if we believe we can show the court that the obligor had the ability to pay something toward the support obligation but failed to do so.
To initiate a contempt proceeding, we obtain an order from the court requiring the obligor to appear in court on a certain date. This order must be personally served upon the obligor prior to the hearing date. At the hearing, the obligor is advised of the right to contact an attorney, and of the right to a court appointed attorney if the obligor cannot afford to hire one. The hearing may then be continued or postponed for thirty or forty-five days so that the obligor can meet with an attorney.
The obligor will sometimes make a payment proposal to the court, and if acceptable, the court may continue the hearing for another few months on condition payments be made. If the obligor states he or she is employed, the court will most often continue the hearing on condition a wage withholding order issue to the employer. If the obligor is unemployed, the court may order him or her to diligently seek employment, and the hearing will be continued for a month or two on condition the obligor advise our office when employment is obtained.
Our goal in bringing a contempt action is to get the obligor to pay support. An obligor may appear in court several times before this goal is achieved, either by the obligor obtaining employment, or by making voluntary monthly payments. If the court finds the obligor has had the ability to pay support but has failed to do so, the obligor may be found in contempt. A jail sentence of up to six months or some other sanction may be imposed at that time, or imposition of sentence may be continued on certain conditions. If the obligor has completely failed to cooperate, and has not met the conditions of the court, the court may order the obligor to serve the jail sentence, with the option to be released if support is paid.
When an obligor cannot be found to be served with the contempt citation, we attempt to locate the obligor. Please be sure to keep our office advised of the obligor's last known address. If we believe we know where the obligor resides, but service of the paperwork cannot be completed for some other reason, we may write to the obligor, advising he or she contact us to discuss the case to avoid the issuance of a warrant. If there is no contact and no payments are made, we may then issue a warrant for failure to comply with the support order.
When an obligor is served but fails to appear at the contempt hearing, we ask the court for bench warrant authority. We then write to the obligor requesting he or she contact us. If no contact is made, a warrant for his or her arrest will be issued. We have no way of knowing when the sheriff will arrest the obligor, but when that happens, the obligor is taken to jail and may be released to appear in court at a later date.
Occasionally, the obligor will contact our office after being served with the contempt citation, but prior to the hearing, and make arrangements for payment of support. We may then agree to continue the hearing for three or four months, on condition the payment arrangement is followed. If the obligor complies with the payment plan, the contempt hearing may be postponed indefinitely, as there is no reason for a hearing if payments are made. However, if the obligor does not comply with the agreement, we expect him or her to appear on the scheduled hearing date, and we will advise the court of the obligor's failure to pay as agreed.