An unusual divorce case in Michigan took another unusual turn when the Court of Appeals upheld the decision of a Circuit Court judge to sentence the ex-husband for criminal contempt of court.
Civil contempt is used more widely in divorce courts to enforce the courts authority than criminal contempt. Civil contempt charges literally put the keys to the jail cell in the hands of the wayward spouse who isn’t keeping up on spousal support, child support or visitation requirements. All he or she has to do to get out of jail is comply with the judge’s order. Criminal contempt charges, however, are designed to primarily to punish.
In this case, it seems like the judge had been pushed a bit too far by the ex-husband’s flagrant legal abuses. In a rare move to start with in divorce cases, the court had ordered the ex-husband to pay his ex-wife’s six-figure legal fees. The court believed that she had been essentially forced into unnecessary legal actions by her ex-husband, so it placed the burden of the expenses she suffered on him. The court then gave him numerous attempts to pay both his spousal support and the attorney’s fees.
He refused to pay up. Even more outrageously, he tried to tell the court that he couldn’t pay because—despite his multiple degrees and a good local economy—he couldn’t find work. Then he proceeded to undermine the court’s authority just about every way imaginable. His offenses included dissolving his business without the court’s permission, lying to the court, then (despite his claims of poverty) trading his Cadillac in for a brand new Volt and rolling up to the courthouse doors in it.
The frustrated judge finally sentenced the Michigan resident to 10 days in jail, to be served on weekends. While he appealed his sentence, the higher court was unsympathetic.
The lesson from a case like this is one that every divorcing person needs to accept early on: Family court judges tend to recognize that there are emotional issues involved in divorces, not just legal ones, so they work hard to be fair to both parties. However, when they issue an final order, it’s not optional, no matter how one party or the other may feel about it.
If you’re having trouble getting an uncooperative ex-spouse to comply with court orders after your divorce, consider seeking an attorney’s advice today.
Source: mlive.com, “Unusual divorce ends with man in jail for refusing to pay ex-wife’s lawyer,” Oona Goodin-Smith, Feb. 13, 2017