When to Challenge Your Contempt of Court Penalties in Your Maryland Family Law Case

gavelIn any court case, including family law matters, it is important to follow the orders handed down by the judge. If orders are not followed, it is also important to understand the consequences that can flow from noncompliance, such as contempt of court. In a recent decision by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, the court upheld a trial court’s decision finding a husband in contempt, ordering him to pay $12,000 to purge the contempt and threatening the man with jail if he didn’t pay the $12,000 within 60 days. The appeals court acknowledged that a party cannot go to jail for failing to pay an amount he lacked the financial ability to pay, but the man’s appeal of the threat of jail in this case was premature.

The divorced couple in this case, ended their six-year marriage in 2013. They had two children together. They reached an agreement on alimony in which the husband would pay alimony for a duration of 16 years. Eventually, the husband fell behind in his alimony and child support. The parties reached an agreement stating that the husband had a $100,000 arrearage and that, to satisfy it, the husband would make several payments, starting with $40,000, which was due on May 20, 2014.

Soon thereafter, the wife went back to court, seeking a contempt order. The husband did not make his May 20 payment, according to the wife. The husband appeared at the hearing and testified that he lacked the financial ability to make the payments that he owed and that he likely would not have the financial means to pay the obligation at any time in the near future. The trial court was not persuaded by the husband’s testimony regarding his lack of financial means. The judge found the husband in contempt and ordered him to pay $12,000 as a “purge amount” within 60 days or potentially face jail.

The husband appealed this ruling, arguing again that he lacked the ability to pay and that the courts could not throw him in jail for not making a monetary payment that he lacked the financial means to pay. The appeals court agreed with this argument but nevertheless upheld what the trial court ordered. The law requires a trial judge, in order to place a litigant like the husband in this case in jail for contempt, to find that the party had the ability to make the required payment but nevertheless had refused to do so. The law requires the judge to make these analyses at the time that the party would actually face incarceration, rather than the time when the judge sets the amount the party must pay to purge his contempt. Due to this timing issue, the husband’s ability-to-pay argument was premature.

As this case shows, it is not only factual matters that are essential to your case but also procedural steps like the correct timing of a court filing or appeal. Whether you are dealing with child support, alimony, or other family law issues, knowledgeable Maryland alimony attorney Anthony A. Fatemi can help. Our office has helped many spouses and parents sort through their legal rights and obligations and achieve a favorable result for their case. To find out how this office can assist you, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.

More blog posts:

Maryland Court Upholds Award of “Indefinite Alimony” to Wife, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, Nov. 26, 2014

Maryland Court Denied Husband’s Effort to Terminate Alimony, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, Sept. 30, 2014

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