Enforcing Support Orders with Civil Contempt

Enforcing with Civil
Laura Bernacki Stafford
Ethan C. McKinney
Kevin McNamara
ERICSA 50th Annual Training Conference & Exposition ▪ May 19 – 23 ▪ Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista, Florida
Civil Contempt
• Willful disobedience of a lawful court order in
which the offender had notice.
• Not used for punishment, but for coercion to
restore the aggrieved party.
• Must leave the Defendant the keys to the
jailhouse door in his pocket. (US v. US Mine
Workers, 330 US 258 (1947).
• If it is not possible for the Defendant to
comply, he must be released. (Morgan v.
Foretich, 564 A.2d 1, 1989 D.C. App)
• Direct v Indirect Contempt
– Direct- actions in presence of court in which court
has actual knowledge.
– Indirect- against the dignity of the court but for
the benefit of the aggrieved party.
Authority for Contempt
I.C. 31-14-12-3, 31-16-12-1, 3, 6
Preparing your File for Contempt
• Administrative Enforcement
– Administrative Hearings
– Non-Payment Letter
– Collection Call
– Vehicle Lien
– License Suspension
Preparing your File for Contempt
• Florida- Administrative Enforcement is taken
by Florida Department of Revenue (DOR)
• There is no mechanism for admin hearing on
non-payment (only for bank levy, license
Screening Your Case Before Filing
• Per AT-12-01 from OCSE (based on Turner)
– Each case should be reviewed individually
– Individual review shall examine the actual and
present ability to comply- is this realistic?
Documenting for Attorney in Court
• Caseworkers to create an enforcement
checklist of all steps prior to filing for
• Document all communication with the NCP.
• Document all enforcement steps with the NCP.
• Prep the attorneys for court by reviewing the
enforcement checklist.
Documenting for Attorney in Court
• Florida- The DOR prepares the file and
pleadings prior to the referral to the legal
services provider.
Filing the Information
• Streamlined forms that comply with your local
rules. Do they provide the obligor with notice
the “Ability to Pay” is a critical issue?
• Accurate arrearage calculations.
– Confirm the support order is correct.
– Confirm the arrears are correct.
Post Turner Safe-Guards
• Make sure the Court has a clean record.
• Right to Counsel
– 6th Amendment of Constitution/Art. 1 § 13 of the
Indiana Constitution.
– Occurs in a civil matter where liberty is at risk
– Notify NCP of right to have an attorney.
• Marks v. Tolliver, 839 NE2d 703, 2005 Ind. App.
– Has NCP made reasonable efforts to secure
counsel before the hearing date?
Post Turner Safe-Guards
• Right to Public Defender
– Notify NCP of right to have attorney provided if he
cannot afford one.
Post Turner Safe-Guards
• Florida- NCP has no right to public defender
• Bowen case sets forth safe-guards for civil
contempt. Florida Family Law Rule of
Procedure 12.615.
• Notice for hearing must contain language stating that
failure of the NCP to appear may result in the
issuance of an arrest order and being held for up to
48 hours. Within 48 hours a hearing must be held to
determine present ability to purge the contempt.
Court Inquiry for Public Defender
• Court will have questions to justify appointing
– Attorneys to note questions and answers for
useful information.
– Is NCP working? Does NCP have property of
value? Who is NCP living with? How is NCP paying
– Attorney use the answers against NCP during
Contempt Hearing.
Information for the Court
• Attorney for the State presentation to the
– Prior order for support was entered.
– The Amount of the Arrearage.
– The amount of the support order.
– The number of children it is for.
– The last payment.
– The pattern of payments.
Rule to Show Cause Hearing
• Typical Questions
– Did NCP know about the order?
• Make sure you know from your file if he did or not and
when he knew. Not knowing is a valid defense.
– Are you employed?
• Caseworkers to have any relevant employment
information for attorney.
• Has NCP ever admitted in Court or to our office that he
is working?
Asset Inquiry
• Florida- asset inquires do not occur until after
the Court has found contempt- opposite of
majority of states where asset/ability to pay is
key to the finding of contempt.
Odd jobs, cash, tips?
– Do you do any odd jobs, have cash income?
• CP may have provided information of this.
• NCP may have told our office about this.
– Do you make any tip income at work?
• Why isn’t NCP supplementing meager IWO with tip
• What is NCP doing with the cash if not paying support.
Assets and Household expenses
– Cars, homes, anything of value?
• BMV check before the hearing.
• Game Systems, TVs, Money that could have been used
for CSUP.
• Ongoing payments- jewelry, etc.
• Check if there was a recent request for passport. This
could indicate a job or a vacation or honeymoon (did he
buy an engagement ring?)
• Recently sold a home or property?
• Who lives in NCP’s household?
• Is NCP paying rent? If no, also money that
could go to CSUP.
• Is anyone paying rent to live with him?
• Is someone taking care of all NCP’s needs?
Why aren’t you paying your child
– Yes this question is open-ended and you never
know what sort of answer you will get.
– In my experience whatever answer the NCP gives
is rarely good for his defense.
• Typical answers: No parenting time, his household, his
own bills, his girlfriends bills, his girlfriends kids, in
other words all things that shouldn’t be prioritized over
this child.
– The Court usually hates these answers.
School, Job Searches
– What is your plan going forward?
• School? How is NCP paying for it?
– Loans or grants? Is there additional lump sum that could be
paid for CSUP.
– If they did get an extra amount, why didn’t they pay anything
on CSUP.
– When do they get their next payment? How much can they
pay from it?
– Have you looked for work?
• Proof of job searches? Have they been to unemployment office?
What Do You Need to Prove?
• Did the payor know about the Order?
– State’s burden to prove
• Did they fail to pay?
– State’s burden to prove usually by certified pay
records or testimony
• Can they pay?
– Payor’s burden to prove.
Defenses to Contempt
• Attack the Prima Facia case
– No jurisdiction• Indiana trial courts have general jurisdiction which
means jurisdiction does not have to be alleged in the
• Once issue is raised, burden shifts to State to prove
• Must be asserted at earliest opportunity.
– No notice- Pennoyer v Neff 95 US 714 (1877).
• Payor must have notice and opportunity to be heard,
but this defense can be waived if not raised at the
earliest opportunity.
– No specific notice of issues alleged in contempt.
• Pleading have to allege specifically: did not pay child
support, did not pay medical bills, etc.
• Emery v. Sauttner, 788 NE2d 856, 2003 Ind App.
• I.C. 34-47-3-5
• Explain/Excuse why the Payor did not comply.
– Payor must present evidence
– Physically unable, SSI, limited resources,
incarceration, mistaken identity, ambigouos order,
coming out of my check by my employer not
paying it
– NOT RELEVANT: visitation, attack or underlying
order, request for DNA
– Shillitano v. US 384 US 364 (1966).
Argument for Contempt
• If your Court allows it, argue why you believe
NCP should be found in contempt.
– Knew about the Order
– Didn’t pay when able to do so
– No defense that justifies non-payment
– Anecdote or statement of NCP’s you can use
against him.
– Contempt is to “coerce” payments not punish.
Argument for Contempt
• Florida- Must demonstrate that during the
period of non-payment, the NCP had the
ability to pay but failed to make payment, It is
NCP’s burden to dispel the presumption
created by the original order.
• Once contempt found, must demonstrate that
NCP has present ability to pay purge.
Alternative Sentencing Ideas
• Community Service (Pettit v. Pettit, 626 NE2d
444, 1993 Ind.) (I.C. 31-14-12-3, 31-16-12-6)
– Have a list of pre-screened providers.
– Provision in sentence for NCP to do the hours
each week or make full payment plus $5.00 on
– Require he obtain proof from provider that he did
the hours. Contact provider to confirm.
– Follow up hearing to prove he did the hours or
Employment Programs
• Child Support Improvement Plan – Ours is
through the Unemployment Office.
– Resume Prep and Review
– Job Skills workshops
• Computer basics, Interviewing, cover letters, identifying
skills, work readiness.
• Referrals for GED classes or skilled training.
• Online job searches at Unemployment Office or
anywhere with internet.
Employment Programs
• Non Custodial Parent Employment Project
(NCPEP)- regional in Florida
Job Search Requirement
• Court to order 30 job applications in 30 days.
– Create a tracking sheet for the Court to use.
– Follow up hearing for NCP to show proof.
– Contact the employers to make sure NCP isn’t
– 30 job apps or interview every 30 days = diligent
search (Florida)- must provide proof every 30 days
Other Ideas
• Transfer of property so long as its value does
not exceed what is owed. (Thompson v.
Thompson, 811 N.E.2d 888, 2004 Ind. App.)
• “till tap”- how much money do you have in
your pocket right now?
Follow up Hearing
• Cover with NCP every court ordered
sentencing alternative in open court.
– Have they paid at all?
– Did they do all community service hours?
– Did they do your Employment Program as
– Did they fill out 30 applications?
Sentenced to Jail
• Purge Amount (Pay or Stay)
– In Indiana any amount up to the full arrearage is
– In practice reasonable bonds work better.
– Willingness to negotiate reduced bond if NCP is
able to come up with some portion of bond.
– Do you have work release available?
– Weekends
Sentenced to Jail
• How much time? In Indiana– In Indiana until 1987, civil contempt could only be
3 months and/or $500.00 fine.
– Now- “reasonable”- Jones v. State 847, NE2d 190,
2006 Ind. App.
• What does your State do?
Sentenced to Jail
• Florida- NCP appears for hearing:
– Court can set a purge based on present ability to
pay and the order must contain the factual basis
– The purge can be immediate or deferred to allow
compliance, if he does not comply a certified copy
of the pay history and writ of bodily attachment
are filed.
Sentenced to Jail
• Florida- NCP FAILS to appear for hearing:
– NCP is presumed to have the ability to comply with
the original order.
– The Court can find contempt based on the
presumption and issue a writ with a reasonable purge.
– Upon arrest- 48 hours for hearing to determine
present ability to pay.
– NCP can be incarcerated up to5 months and 29 days
Debtor’s Prison?
• Debtor’s prison is prohibited except in child
• Child support is considered to be an obligation
from nature and not from contract.
• Mosser v. Mosser, 729 NE2d 197, 2000 Ind.
• Court can sentence to jail (if purge amount)
and fine (usually in the form of attorney fees).
Adler v. Adler, 713 NE2d 348, 199 Ind. App.,
Mosser v. Mosser.
Suspended Sentences
• Immediate Execution Requests
– Upon showing that as little as one payment is
missed the Court will issue a writ of attachment
for immediate execution of the sentence.
– File a certified copy of the payment history along
with Motion and proposed Writ of Attachment.
– Upon arrest, limited hearing to give Court any
reason they should not serve the sentence.
Bond Reduction
• The goal is to collect, be willing to reduce
bonds if appropriate.
– Consider time already served, how quickly did
they come up with a reduced amount, how
reasonable is the existing bond.
– Process for quick review with the Court.
– Remember it is your case, maybe CP wants NCP to
sit in jail but is that really in the best interest of
the case?
Post Emancipation Contempt
• In Indiana contempt or as least jail time is
– Contempt is an extraordinary remedy.
– Constitutional issues.
– Seems at odds with the statutory authority.
– I.C. 31-14-12-3, 31-16-12-6
– Corbridge v. Corbridge, 230 Ind, 201 (1952 Ind.)
Post Emancipation Contempt
• In the Majority of States however, Contempt is
– Emancipation doesn’t alter the idea that child
support obligation stems from nature.
– Prevents payor from avoidance until
Can Arrears Be Reduced to
• In most States, yes, the purpose of the debt
remains the same regardless of form.
• Ongoing moral obligation.
• Pettit v. Pettit, 626 NE2d 444 (1993 Ind.).
• Prior to Pettit case in 1993, if a child support
obligation was reduced to judgment,
contempt was not an option.
What to do next?
• Start over at the beginning or go straight to
Contempt the next time?
– Depends on the results and history of the case.
– If they paid the bond or a reasonable reduced bond
very quickly, recommend going right back to
– If they obtain employment and pay regularly consider
starting over the next time payments stop.
– Florida- DOR determines.
Valid Defenses/Possible Mod?
• If NCP had a valid defense to non-payment
consider if CSUP amount should be modified.
– Disability determination
– True inability to work by Doctor but no disability
– Parties living together and no TANF benefits.
Helpful Documents
Employment Verifications
Quarterly Financial Data
Bank Statements
BMV Vehicle report
Payment Histories
Arrearage Calculations
Proof of any lump sum income.