Contempt of Court and Who Has (and Who Doesn’t Have) a Right of Appeal in a Maryland Unpaid Alimony Dispute

If you have an alimony obligation and your ex-spouse is seeking to have you held in contempt of court, this is a very serious matter that you should treat accordingly. If a court declares you in contempt, you could be ordered to pay fines or even jailed. This requires serious countermeasures, including retaining the services of an experienced Maryland family law attorney.

P.R. was a Montgomery County husband facing that type of potential legal consequence. He and his wife divorced in May 2017. Three months prior, the spouses signed a marital settlement agreement that called for the husband to pay the wife non-modifiable alimony for a period of 10 years.

In 2020, the spouses became embroiled in a dispute over $6,350 in court-ordered attorney’s fees that the wife owed the husband. The husband took that $6,350 out of his alimony payments over a period of nine months.

The wife asked the court to find the husband in contempt. At the hearing, the trial judge suggested that the husband place the disputed $6,350 amount into the court’s registry, and he did so. The judge eventually declined to find the husband in contempt, and the wife appealed.

This case is useful for highlighting several important things to know about alimony in Maryland and the courts’ contempt powers. Generally speaking, spouses who have an obligation to pay alimony must strictly comply with what the court ordered or else potentially face contempt penalties. These penalties could include a fine, jail time, or both.

Frequently, if the court finds a payor spouse in contempt, the court will state an amount the delinquent spouse can pay to, in essence, make the contempt go away. This sum is called a “purge amount” as, by paying it, the delinquent spouse can “purge” himself of contempt.

In the Montgomery County case, the trial judge concluded that the husband was not in contempt of court and, even if he had been at one point, he purged himself of that contempt the moment he paid the $6,350 sum in the court’s registry.

What Happens After the Court Denies Your Ex’s Contempt Motion

The wife lost her appeal of that ruling, which spotlights another thing to know about contempt actions in Maryland. If your spouse asks the judge to hold you in contempt and the trial court ultimately sides with you — refusing to hold you in contempt — then your spouse cannot appeal that decision.

In ruling for the husband, the appeals court said that the wife lacked a legally recognized right to appeal. While the appeals court generally has very broad authority to hear appeals of most civil matters, the Maryland statutes do not extend that authority to cases where a trial judge refused to find someone in contempt. The Maryland Code makes it clear that “only those adjudged in contempt have the right to appellate review. The right of appeal in contempt cases is not available to the party who unsuccessfully sought to have another” declared in contempt of court.

Whether you need to defend against your ex-spouse’s contempt action or you need help holding your ex-spouse in contempt for failing to pay alimony, the skilled Maryland family law attorneys at Anthony A. Fatemi, LLC are here to help, offering in-depth knowledge of the law and diligent, personalized attention to help you get a fair and just outcome. Contact us today at 301-519-2801 or via our online form to set up your consultation.

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