When a couple decides to end their marriage, the legal process of divorce that follows is intended to separate the couple’s assets and debts, determine if spousal and/or child support needs to be ordered, and address issues relating to how the parties will continue to parent minor children. All of these decisions will be reduced to writing and incorporated into the final decree or final judgment of divorce. The terms included in the final decree are considered orders of the court. Therefore, if you fail to pay your child support as ordered, it is considered a violation of the court’s order and could lead to a finding of contempt of court. A La Vergne child support lawyer explains what contempt means and what happens if you are found to be in contempt.
Divorce in Tennessee – The Parenting Plan Requirement
When the parents of a minor child decide to divorce, the law requires the parents to submit a Parenting Plan to the court during the course of the subsequent divorce proceedings. A Parenting Plan can be thought of as a roadmap for co-parenting the child after the couple is divorced. Ata bare minimum, a Parenting Plan should include information such as who will have primary custody of the child, what the parenting time schedule will be with the child, how much child support is ordered to be paid and by which party, and what the plans are for resolving conflicts that crop up after the divorce is final. Clearly, the goal of a Parenting Plan is to minimize the effect of the divorce on any minor children of the marriage and to ensure that both parents remain active in the children’s lives after the divorce. Ideally, the parties create their own Parenting Plan after discussing, and agreeing to, the terms of the plan. If the parties are unable to reach an agreement regarding the terms of a Parenting Plan though, the court will intervene and decide the terms for the parties. Either way, once the court has accepted the Parenting Plan it becomes part of the final judgment of divorce.
Orders of the Court
People often fail to realize that a divorce is actually a type of civil lawsuit. The Petitioner is actually petitioning the court to grant him/her a divorce from the Respondent. As such, the final decree or judgment is a final order of the court. The provisions and terms contained in the final decree are, therefore, orders of the court. This includes the amount of child support ordered by the court. Once child support is ordered, whether through a divorce or through another type of lawsuit, such as a paternity action, the order is an order of the court. Failing to obey that order can subject an individual to all remedies available to the court for contempt of court.
What Is Contempt of Court?
Literally translated, contempt of court means that an individual has disrespected the authority of the court. In practical terms, it means that someone has disobeyed and order of the court. Contempt of court could occur because someone is being extremely rude and disrespectful to a judge while court is in session, because a party fails to appear for court as ordered by the court, or because someone has disregarded or disobeyed a direct order of the court. In the case of failure to pay child support, it is because someone has disobeyed an order of the court found in the final decree of divorce.
Consequences of Contempt
A judge has a considerable amount of authority when it comes to dealing with contempt of court. When the contempt is for failure to pay child support, the court’s response will often depend on the facts and circumstances of the payor (person ordered to pay support). If there is a good reason why the support is in arrears, the judge may be lenient; however, if there is no reason for the failure to pay support, the judge may deal with contempt harshly by imposing additional fines, increasing the amount of support to include an arrears payment, or even throwing the Respondent in jail for a few days in the hope it will make him/her understand the importance of following the court’s orders.
If you are behind on your child support payments in Tennessee, it is in your best interest to consult with an experienced La Vergne child support lawyer at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby as soon as possible to ensure that your rights are protected. Contact the team today by calling 615-898-1560 to schedule your appointment.