What Steps Will The Court Take If They Decide To Enforce A Court Order?

The court will sanction them until they comply with the court order, or hold the threat of sanctions over their head, then have a review hearing.

What Rights Does A Defendant Have In An Order To Show Cause Proceeding?

A party which is defending an order to show cause sometimes lacks the ability to comply. Let us suppose that a party is ordered to pay $1000 a month in alimony, but then they lose their job, and have no income. One of their defenses goes to the second factor of what the other side has to prove (whether they had the ability to comply) so the non-compliant party would need to demonstrate to the court that they no longer have the ability to comply. Therefore, they would have to present evidence that they lost their job, and no longer have that ability, but they should not just stop there. They should also file a Petition to Modify those court orders to adjust them, taking into account the changed circumstances that prevents them from complying.

In order to modify the orders, they have to show that there has been a significant material change of circumstances since entry of those court orders. They cannot just show up, and claim that they lack the ability to comply. The court is going to be less than sympathetic, unless they are making active efforts to modify the court orders to reflect their current situation. This is because unless and until the court orders are changed, they are what they are. A judgement for alimony will continue to accrue against that non-compliant party, until the court orders are changed. If a non-compliant party files a petition to modify the court orders, then the court may eventually retroactively adjust, or eliminate the support amount under this scenario back to the date that the petition to modify the court orders was filed.

In other words, once a petition to modify court orders has been filed, the court can retroactively make an adjustment, but cannot adjust things prior to the date that the petition to modify court orders was filed. If somebody is going to claim inability to comply as a defense, they should likely also file a petition to modify the court orders. That being said, anybody claiming inability to comply must also exercise due diligence towards compliance in order to take advantage of that defense. In other words they have to do everything in their power to comply. In the example that I gave of the party who would owe $1000 a month in alimony, if he were able to pay $200 a month, then he should pay that instead of just racking up zeros month after month. The court is going to be less sympathetic towards somebody who makes no efforts towards compliance, than a party who does the best they can. If they are going to claim that they have done the best that they can, they must present evidence regarding the steps that they took.

Other defenses to an order to show cause include if a party does not know what the court order was, or does not know what it meant. This defense is most common when either;

  1. The court order has not yet been reduced to writing, and the party has forgotten what the court order included or,
  2. The court’s order is ambiguous, or vague.

The court’s order has to be sufficiently clear for a party to know in actuality what they are supposed to do. Another defense to an order to show cause would be if a party did not know that there was a court order. However, that is one of the least common defenses, because both parties become aware very quickly that there is a court order.

Additionally, a party defending an order to show cause might just attack the sufficiency of the evidence presented by the moving party, and raise objections. For example objections as to hearsay, foundation, or other evidentiary defenses that can be raised in any case.

Finally, a party defending an order to show cause can raise the defense that the moving party has “unclean hands,” and is therefore not entitled to “equitable relief.” What that means is that the moving party is non-compliant with court orders, and is coming before the court asking for justice that they themselves have not “done justice,” and therefore come to the court with unclean hands. If a court decides that the party moving for contempt is non-compliant themselves, the courts will not be sympathetic to the moving party, and may choose not to grant relief for their request.

As a predicate to filing an order to show cause, a moving party should make sure that they themselves are compliant with the court’s orders.

For more information on Enforcing A Court Order In Utah, or defending against an Order to Show Cause, an initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (801) 616-3301 today.

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*Child Welfare Law Specialist Nat’l Assoc. of Counsel for Children