In New York State, courts will issue "orders" directing parties
to do something or not to do something. Specifically, in
divorce cases there can be several court orders directing the parties in one manner
or another over various issues.
Sometimes, a party in a divorce action will ignore a court order or be
unable to comply with the court order such as payment of monies to a spouse (
payment of legal fees,
equitable distribution). The remedy for non-compliance of a court order is civil contempt.
New York State Divorce Laws
The New York State Domestic Relations Law (DRL) provides that where a spouse
fails to make a payment pursuant to an order or judgment in a matrimonial
action the aggrieved spouse may apply to the court to punish the defaulting
spouse for contempt but only if it appears presumptively to the satisfaction
of the court that payment cannot be enforced by other means such as enforcement
of a money judgment or an income execution. Any motion to punish for civil
contempt is addressed to the sound discretion of the court.
To sustain civil contempt a court must find the alleged spouse violated
a lawful order which expressed an unequivocal mandate and that as a result
of such violation a right or remedy of a petition was prejudiced. The
moving party must establish the violation of contempt by clear and convincing
evidence. However, the aggrieved spouse is not required to prove that
all alterative remedies have been exhausted but proof that alternative
remedies would be ineffectual is sufficient to sustain a finding of contempt.
In most cases it is not necessary for the court to find that a parties'
disobedience of the court order was willful or even deliberate rather
the mere act of disobedience, regardless of motive, is sufficient to sustain
a finding of civil contempt if the disobedience defeats, impairs, impedes
or prejudices the aggrieved party.
Courts know that contempt of court is a harsh remedy that must be used
sparingly but where the courts are satisfied that alternative remedies
would be ineffectual the court may dispense with the requirement that
a showing of efforts to secure compliance have failed.
Hearings on civil contempt are not always required
A hearing on the issue of civil contempt of court is only conducted where
there is a factual dispute which cannot be resolved on motion papers alone.
What is a "Purge" Amount?
Once civil contempt of court is found the court can adjudge a jail sentence
but suspend the sentence to provide the party with the opportunity to
purge the sentence by a certain date. Usually a dollar amount is fixed
as the "purge" and if not paid a warrant for an arrest is used
for the period of jail time as set forth by the judge. Usually the purge
amount can be paid at any time to eliminate the jail sentence.
Westchester County Divorce Lawyers
Riebling, Proto & Sachs, LLP we have decades of experience in family and divorce law. We have worked
on countless divorce cases involving contempt issues. This includes child
support cases, divorce cases and other
family court cases.
If you or a loved one is seeking contempt of court or facing contempt of
court you must have an attorney to protect your interests. Call our divorce
and family law
attorneys today for a free initial consultation.
Out offices are located in downtown White Plains. We can be reached by
telephone (914) 946-4808 or by