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Contempt sanction notice in family court orders

I actually have a form file, contempt sanction notice, that contains language I infrequently include at the bottom of proposed family court orders:

Take notice that this is a court order within the jurisdiction of the family court.  Violation of a family court order in South Carolina may result in a proceeding for contempt of court.  If you violate this order and are found in contempt of court, you may be fined up to $1,500.00, imprisoned for up to one (1) year, ordered to perform up to 300 hours of community service, or a combination of the above sanctions.

A rule to show cause I prosecuted last week has me thinking I should uniformly include this language whenever I might need to enforce an order against an opposing party.  That hearing involved a litigant who had failed to pay my court ordered fees.  In her direct examination she testified about all the bills she had to pay as her explanation for why she couldn’t pay my fee.  I thus wanted to cross examine her by getting her to acknowledge that none of the other debts she was paying would land her in jail for non payment, but that her debt to me could.  She denied any such knowledge.

I was lucky the judge didn’t believe her, but my cross examination would have been much more effective had I included the language above in the order I was hoping to enforce.  Then, when she denied knowledge of the contempt sanctions, I could have simply pointed to the order I was enforcing.

The upshot: when drafting an order you believe you might need to enforce against the opposing party include the contempt sanction language at the bottom of the proposed order.

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  • Great idea and advice. It is similar to the DSS “black box” warning that says if you don’t complete treatment, you could lose your rights as a parent. I like it and will incorporate it!

  • Linda

    Good idea, Greg…I also included at the end another clause: “as well as having to pay the opposing party’s attorney fees and costs for the bringing of a contempt”.

  • In a recent motion to compel that I won, the judge dictated from the bench that wording very similar to yours be included in the order when he asked me to draft it.

  • Katie R. Parham

    Great ideas, Greg and Linda.

    Greg, you’re basically spelling out the statute, which is a good way to help the parties understand the contempt powers of the court.
    Any concern some judges might object to the language?

    • No one’s complained about this language yet.

      • Katie R. Parham

        Great! Will add to my proposed orders, as well.

        Thanks!

  • Just be careful that your own client isn’t such a jerk they might violate the order. I “borrowed” language from another family court practitioner for my newest retainer agreement that says almost the same thing to my own clients. I make them initial it. I routinely include similar language and a lot more above the signature line of consent orders.

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