Contempt is the willful disobedience of a court order. The Oregon and Washington courts have fairly broad authority to remedy the damage that has been caused by one party’s failure to comply. This includes the ability to make the offending party pay for the other party’s attorney fees. In extreme cases, the offending party can be taken to jail until he or she complies. A motion for contempt is a useful tool because there are a wide range of remedies available and because the term “contempt” tends to get the attention of the offender. But contempt is not always the best option. The standard of proof and procedural hurdles for contempt proceedings can increase the risks and costs of bringing a contempt motion. Further, in most instances, contempt is entirely discretionary to the court—it is not a matter of right. For these reasons, experienced attorneys often utilize other enforcement methods instead of or in addition to contempt.
As long as the judgment or decree is sufficiently clear, it is usually possible to file a request for “enforcement.” In Oregon, the courts are instructed to enforce certain settlement agreements as if they were contracts. In other words, you may sue your ex-spouse for a breach of contract and ask to recover your damages. In both Oregon and Washington, courts also have inherent and statutory authority to ensure that their judgments have the intended effect. A motion filed under these theories usually benefits from a lower standard of proof and simpler procedure than contempt. Accordingly, in many situations, a motion to enforce a judgment or decree is the best option for fixing the problem.
Enforcement of Parenting Time
Both Oregon and Washington have specific rules regarding motions to enforce the terms of a parenting plan. These statutes authorize an award of attorney fees in addition to other helpful remedies. In Oregon, there is a separate enforcement statute (non-contempt) that requires the court to hold a hearing in 45 days or less. In Washington, the contempt statutes themselves provide for special remedies such as mandatory punishments and accelerated punishments when a parent violates a parenting plan on multiple occasions. For something that seems so simple, enforcing a judgment or decree can be a complicated and needlessly expensive affair. It is therefore important to consult with an honest and experienced attorney.
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Our divorce and custody attorneys have extensive experience in contempt and enforcement proceedings of all size. If you require further advice for your specific situation, call us at 503.222.9116 or write to us to learn more about how we can help you.