How Does One Enforce a Family Court Order?
When a party to a family court order fails to follow its terms, one can petition the family court to enforce the order and secure the other party’s compliance. The enforcement mechanism is through a contempt action, commonly called a “Rule to Show Cause.” A rule to show cause asks the family court to hold the opposing party in contempt until he or she complies with the provision of the court order at issue.
A finding of contempt requires a finding that the other party failed to comply with the court order and was “wilful” in his or her non-compliance–that is, that the other party had the ability to comply with the court order and chose not to.
Rules to show cause carry powerful sanctions which are listed in S.C. Code § 63-3-620. The court can order the other party to spend up to one year in jail, fine him or her up to $1,500.00 or make him or her perform up to 300 hours of community service unless and until that party complies with the court order. Further the court can order the other party to pay the prevailing party’s attorney’s fees and costs for bringing the rule and that contemnor’s ability or inability to pay these fees is not a factor in the court setting these fees.
A rule to show cause can be technically complicated. It must contain an affidavit or verified complaint alleging the specific provisions of the court order that has allegedly been violated and must state with specificity how the order was violated. There are specific rules for serving the opposing party with a rule to show cause. The hearing also requires live testimony. Further, where the other party has not complied with the court order, but might have a valid reason for not doing so, a rule to show cause may not be appropriate. South Carolina Family Court Rule 14 sets forth the procedure for Rules to Show Cause. Rules needs to be personally served. Rule 14(g) sets forth the hearing procedure:
The contempt hearing shall be an evidentiary hearing with testimony pursuant to the Rules of Evidence, except as modified by the Family Court Rules. At the contempt hearing, the moving party must establish a prima facie case of willful contempt by showing the existence of the order of which the moving party seeks enforcement, and the facts showing the respondent’s noncompliance. The moving party shall satisfy the burden of proof required by law for the specific nature of contempt before the court. Once the moving party establishes a prima facie case, the respondent is entitled to present evidence of a defense or inability to comply with the order. If requested, the Court may allow reply testimony. The Court may impose sanctions provided by law upon proper showing and finding of willful contempt, and may award other appropriate relief properly requested by a party to the proceeding.
The ability to have the opposing party placed in jail until he or she complies with the court order (and the ability to have must or all of one’s attorney’s fees reimbursed for successful prosecution of a rule to show cause) makes the enforcement mechanism very powerful. Few people need to be held in contempt more than once or twice before they take compliance with the order seriously. When one is having problems getting the opposing party to comply with a valid court order, bringing a rule to show cause is frequently the best strategic option.
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For more information on rules to show cause: