Contempt/Enforcement of Child Support

The determination of child support is based on a set of guidelines. When one parent chooses to ignore a support order and not make the appropriate child support payments, the financially dependent parent can face monetary peril. If your ex-spouse refuses to keep up his or her end of the divorce agreement, it is crucial that you contact an experienced child support enforcement attorney to learn more about your legal options. The lawyers at Tangusso & Lambert can meet with you and take you through the entire process from initial consultation to a final resolution of your issue.

Enforcing an Agreement or Court Order

A Complaint for Contempt can be filed when an individual has failed to comply or has violated a court order. The Courts have the power to punish and coerce compliance with their orders which are legally binding. Therefore, when a party fails to comply with or violates a Court order he or she may be subject to monetary and legal penalties, including incarceration. Contempt can result from a variety of situations, including but not limited to the following:

  • A party fails to pay child support as ordered by the Court.
  • A party has interfered or denied another’s lawful parenting or visitation time with the children.
  • A noncustodial parent violates child custody provisions.
  • A party fails to pay alimony payments as ordered by the Court.

Contempt proceedings are separate and distinct actions from the original case out of which the court order or judgment arose. A contempt action is commenced by the filing of a Complaint. The Probate and Family Court has a specific form entitled "Complaint for Contempt" which must be used to commence all contempt actions. After the Complaint is filed a Summons will be issued with a return date for the court hearing. A copy of the Summons and Complaint must be served upon the defendant in accordance with the applicable rules of domestic relations procedure.

In a contempt proceeding, the Plaintiff must establish three basic elements:

  • There is a prior valid judgment or order.
  • The defendant had knowledge of the judgment or order.
  • The defendant willfully disobeyed the judgment or order.

The defendant will have the opportunity to respond to the complaint upon being served. The answer to the Complaint for Contempt can include factors such as the loss of job, reduced income, remarriage by the recipient of the support judgment or circumstances beyond his or her control.

If the Defendant is found by the Court to be in contempt, the Court may:

  1. Modify or terminate the original judgment or order;

    If the Court finds that there has been a substantial change of circumstances it can modify the original judgment or order. In support cases, the existence of an arrearage shall constitute a substantial change in circumstances and cannot be grounds for modification.

  2. Modify arrears;

    If the Defendant can prove a change of circumstances

  3. Order the Defendant committed to jail;

  4. Enter a money judgment to be paid as the Court deems appropriate;

  5. Award attorney’s fees;

    When a judgment of contempt is entered for failure to comply the Plaintiff is entitled to receive from the Defendant all of his or her reasonable attorney fees and expenses relating to the attempted resolution, initiation or prosecution of the Complaint for Contempt. The Plaintiff shall include with his or her Complaint for Contempt a motion for attorneys’ fees and expenses along with an affidavit setting forth the basis for the fees and expenses. The Court shall include reasonable attorneys’ fees and expenses in the contempt judgment unless it enters a specific finding that such expense and fees shall not be paid by the Defendant.

  6. Order an assignment or garnishment of wages.

    In support cases, the Court can order a payor to execute a wage assignment when the original support order is entered. In addition, the Court can opt to make the wage assignment effective immediately or to suspend it. If the support order contained a suspended wage assignment it will become effective immediately when the payor is found in violation or contempt of the order. In addition, at a contempt hearing, if the Plaintiff can show that there is a long history of the Defendant having missing or late payments the Court can choose to enter a wage assignment order on the grounds that there is a likelihood of default in the future.

If your ex-spouse has stopped making child support payments, it is crucial that you contact an attorney as soon as possible. Many individuals make the mistake of attempting to resolve the matter on their own. Unfortunately, verbal agreements are not legally binding and snap decisions such as withholding visitation can lead to negative consequences in the future. The legal process of enforcing a child support order can be navigated by an attorney at our firm.

If you have further questions or concerns regarding the enforcement of child support, do not hesitate to schedule a consultation with a skilled Salem child support enforcement lawyer. At Tangusso & Lambert, we have the experience and legal knowledge that you need.