Complaint for Contempt: An overview of Contempt Actions in the Massachusetts Probate and Family Court

  • By:Karpenski & Schmelkin

When the Court enters a Judgment of Divorce Nisi, in many cases, the litigation is not over. The Judgment of Divorce Nisi (and Temporary Orders) provide the rights and obligations of the parties. A common issue, in many cases, is enforcement of those rights and obligations. The Massachusetts Probate and Family Court has the authority to enforce the terns of the Judgment of Divorce Nisi (and Temporary Orders) through contempt actions.

In the Massachusetts Probate and Family Court, most contempt actions are civil in nature. A complaint for civil contempt is remedial with the objective of having the non-compliant party comply with the terms of the Court’s Judgment (or Orders). The Plaintiff in a Complaint for Contempt has the burden of proof, or the responsibility to prove to the Court that the Defendant has been non-compliant with the Court’s Judgment (or Orders). To find a Defendant in civil contempt there must be a clear and unequivocal order and the Defendant must have willfully violated the order. The language of the Order must be unambiguous such that the rights and obligations of the parties are clear to a reasonable person. When drafting agreements, it is crucial that the parties be clear and concise with their language so that there are no questions as to the rights and obligations of the parties. Once the Court has found that the Plaintiff has met his or her burden with respect to the language of the Order, the Court will then look towards the actions (or failure to act) of the Defendant to comply with the Order.

It is not uncommon for contempt actions to be brought over allegations of child support arrears, alimony arrears, failure of a party to reimburse the other party for uninsured medical and dental expenses, cost of children’s extracurricular activities, cost of health insurance premiums, failure of a party to allow parenting time, failure of a party to allow telephone calls with children, and issues relative to joint legal custody decisions. These are a few of many contempt issues that a party may face with an ex-spouse (or soon-to-be ex-spouse) or parent.

If you are having issues with your ex-spouse’s (or soon-to-be ex-spouse) or other parent’s compliance with a court order or you have been served with a Complaint for Contempt, it is important that you have an advocate in court. For exceptional assistance, contact the knowledgeable and experienced attorneys at Karpenski & Schmelkin Divorce and Family Law Attorneys.

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Posted in: Divorce