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Enforcement of a Texas Order Via Contempt

Texas has many remedies which are available to enforce a Texas court's decree/order. Contempt is a civil remedy with criminal consequences because the violator either will be fined or put in jail. To be held in contempt of court the offender must intentionally violate the court's order. The punishment for contempt varies with fines accessed in amounts up to $500.00 and/or confinement in the county jail for up to six months.

The two most common forms of contempt are: the violation of a court order; or a form of misconduct which occurs in the courtroom in front of the judge.

In findings of contempt a court order must be in writing and signed by the judge before the alleged violation occurred. However, not all violations of a court order are subject to punishment through contempt. For example, we no longer follow the English tradition of Debtor's Prison: a person in Texas cannot be jailed for not paying a debt. If the divorce decree divides credit and debts, failure to pay a debt cannot be remedied through contempt of court. Contempt of court deals with court ordered child support, spousal support or payment from an existing source of money. However, if a temporary order provides for payment of utilities or house payment as a form of child support or spousal maintenance, then any violations of these terms can be remedied by contempt of court. The bottom line is these orders have a relationship to children.

Some difficulties in contempt proceedings usually are associated with the original order. Some orders are ambiguous and too general in nature. Failure to specify with enough details is one of the major flaws which usually results in being unsuccessful in a contempt proceeding. Thus, you may file contempt proceedings and lose, not only at hearing, but bear the costs of legal proceedings.

Contempt proceedings are primarily used to enforced child support payments, visitation rights, division of property and alimony. Both parties must appear at the proceeding. Failure of a party to appear before the judge will result in the issuance of a capias. A capias is treated just like a criminal warrant and will be entered into the national, local and state police computers reflecting the warrant. Contempt proceedings are considered serious in nature and should never be taken lightly by anyone.

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Before the divorce is final, the court may issue temporary orders to deal with immediate problems, such as conservatorship, possession, child support, and spousal support/alimony. Temporary orders can say who will live in the home, who will be able to write checks on the bank accounts, and who will have control of the children up until the divorce is final and permanent orders are put in place. In most cases, depending on the court, the spouses will be ordered to mediation prior to any hearing on temporary orders. Mandatory mediation helps lessen the case load at the court and helps the parties resolve issues without a court ruling.
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