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Contempt of court – jail as a sanction (part 2)

In my previous contempt of court blog post I discussed that a judgment is one of the remedies that can be ordered if an individual fails to pay a court ordered support obligation. Other contempt sanctions can also be requested or imposed.

In a motion for contempt of court, one of the harshest sanctions the court can impose is putting someone in jail for failing to follow a court order. This is done either on the court’s own authority or as a requested sanction in the contempt motion. When incarceration is requested as a sanction and the person does not have an attorney, that individual has a right to court-appointed counsel (if the person meets the financial qualifications).

In one of my divorce contempt cases, as a sanction I asked that the husband be imprisoned for willfully refusing to follow the court orders. My request for imprisonment was a last resort due to his repeated failure to follow the court orders and the court’s previous contempt findings. A request for jail has to have a coercive effect on a party. For example, a request for jail is followed by arguing or showing that the individual had the ability to pay on a court-ordered obligation but chose not to. Because the husband was pro se (representing himself), the contempt was continued about a month out to allow the husband sufficient time to apply for a court-appointed attorney and have that lawyer prepare a response.

At the contempt hearing, although the court felt imprisonment was an appropriate remedy for husband’s failure to follow the court orders (such as, not paying for work-related daycare or enrolling in court-ordered drug/alcohol treatment) the court wanted the trial to go forward. And trial was three weeks away. If the court imprisoned the husband, the husband could have used that as an excuse to continue the trial date. The husband could state that he was unable to prepare for trial because he was in jail and ask that the trial be continued. The court set a review hearing on the jail sanction (a few days after the trial date) in the event the trial failed to occur.

While the court “reserved” the jail sanction for trial, there may be other remedies to pursue in advance of trial, which will be the subject of my next blog post.

This is part two of a three part series on contempt of court and possible remedies.

Disclaimer: Case results depend upon a variety of factors unique to each case. Case results do not guarantee or predict a similar result in any future case.