Contempt Is Designed to Punish
Video Transcribed: My name is Brian L. Jackson, and I’m a Tulsa Father’s Rights attorney with Dads.Law, we protect fathers’ rights in Oklahoma. Today’s video is going to be entitled, Don’t be an ATM, Part Two. Last time, I was talking to you guys out there who are single fathers.
Today, I want to talk to the married fathers, because don’t think that you guys are getting off the hook on this conversation because you’re not. Now, if you’ve been married to your child’s mother, then you are presumed to be the father without having to be adjudicated the father, and you will have rights as a parent, that derive from that presumption.
So you do have the right to custody and visitation. In fact, if you are getting divorced and there is no court order in place, you’re presumed, the de facto position is that you and your ex-wife will share joint custody by implication.
However, that doesn’t mean that you couldn’t get saddled later with a child support debt and no visitation. The first and most obvious way that can happen is if you get an adverse ruling out of a divorce court.
If the court, for example, there are allegations of domestic violence, child abuse, neglect, substance abuse against you, and you don’t defend yourself, any of those situations could lead to you either being put on supervised visitation or denied visitation outright.
There are specific statutory rules that deal with those types of allegations, that set up a presumption that works against you. So, if you are accused of something like that, you really do need to defend yourself.
Now, even if you screw up and you were involved in, for instance, a domestic violence incident, that doesn’t mean that you can’t ever have normalized visitation and a normalized relationship with your child.
There may be a process involved, but it’s not automatic forever and ever, you never see your child again, or you’re always on supervised. I can tell you that from experience.
The judge may throw some, the family court judge may throw some requirements your ways, such as making you go to go to classes or possibly go get counseling or something, but it is possible to get back to normalized visitation, even in the event that you are, that you did screw up, and were involved in a domestic violence incident.
So, it’s important again, to have good representation, so that you have someone who will fight for you in that situation. Because let me tell you, if you’re facing allegations like that, you definitely need help.
Another way you can also wind up where you end up paying child support for a child that you don’t get to see is in the event that, let’s say you have custody and visitation order in place, and mom’s not following it. She’s denying you visitation for whatever reason or for no reason.
Sometimes it can be as simple as she doesn’t like, you moved on and got a new girlfriend, got a new wife. Yeah, those cases really do happen, more often than you’d like to believe. Well, if you sit on your hands and do nothing, then again, you can end up paying child support for a child you don’t get to see. Then, an unfortunate fact of life is, if you stop paying child support, she may not have to lift a finger because DHS may get involved, and decide to prosecute you for not paying child support.
In Tulsa County, that’ll get you on the rocket docket, where you can go from being cited for contempt to being sentenced to incarceration in 90 days. The judge on that docket routinely sentences child support debtors to jail time, up to six months in County.
On the other hand, although there is the legal authority that stands for the premise that if she is wrongfully denying you your court-ordered visitation or your court-ordered parenting time, that can be prosecuted by the District Attorney’s office. The fact of the matter is, in my years of practice, I have never seen that happen, ever, which isn’t to say that it doesn’t happen anywhere in the state. I’ve just never seen it, which makes me think it’s unusual that it would happen.
So, the reality is, you’re probably going to have to prosecute that yourself, but even if the DA is going to get involved, the fact of the matter is you’re going to have to be proactive about it. With any kind of criminal prosecution or action by the DA in general, typically, the old adage that the squeaky wheel gets the grease holds true.
If you make a stink, they’re more likely to take it seriously. So, in other words, you have to be your own advocate to start with, and then you need to get yourself a good advocate in the form of a good lawyer.
It’s important to have good representation, because although you do have some options available to vindicate your rights, I mean, number one, you can file a Motion to Enforce, which will get you into court very quickly, and allow you to vindicate your rights to see your child. Basically, a Motion to Enforce has to be heard within 30 days of filing.
So, that’s a pretty quick turnaround time as family court matters go, especially in Tulsa County because we’re busy as all get out. That’s a pretty quick turnaround time. Within that 30 days, the court’s supposed to have it disposed of one way or another.
If you prevail, you can get an order that commands her to let you see the child, and can even give you makeup time, and you can recover your attorney’s fees. The other enforcement mechanism you have is contempt.
Unfortunately, civil contempt for denial of visitation takes a lot longer to get you a hearing date, than on child support. It can be six months to a year potentially before you get that contempt heard. And if she demands a jury, it could be longer than that.
I’ve talked about that in the past, but because they are quasi-criminal, you do have the right to a jury panel if you want one. So, she could demand a jury trial, and stall it even longer. Ideally, if you are in a situation where you are being denied visitation, your best bet, and I’ve said this in past discussions and I’ll reiterate this is, go after both options at the same time. Get the Motion to Enforce and go for the contempt because they each have their own benefits.
Contempt is designed to punish. Motion to Enforce is how you get your rights vindicated now. Both of those can get you, you can recover attorney’s fees on and contempt, both carry enough teeth that would hopefully convince Mom that she doesn’t want to want to cross you anymore.
You can use those as tools to enforce your rights, but don’t, but if you sit on your hands, the fact of the matter is, you can be basically made into her personal ATM on child support. In case you get the idea, you’re operating under the mistaken impression that you can just use child support as leverage, and withhold it to compel her to play ball with you and let you see your child.
If you do that, you’re going to get on the rocket docket real fast. Statutes are really specific on this point. You absolutely, positively cannot use child support, withhold child support because you’re being denied visitation. The inverse is also true that she’s not allowed to withhold visitation on the basis of your non-payment of child support.
However, the fact of the matter is, on the ground right now, the likelihood of severe consequences coming your way if you withhold child support, and rapidly is much higher than the likelihood of severe consequences coming her way rapidly, if she withholds visitation.
So, the lesson to take from that absolutely does not resort to that type of self-help. It will make the situation worse. What you want, is to get somebody, get a good lawyer involved who can file a Motion to Enforce, and then civil contempt charges against her, if she’s denying you your visitation rights.
But definitely do not withhold child support because that’s just going to jam you up. If you do find yourself in a situation where you are being denied access to your child, then you absolutely should go to dads.law where fathers are not disposable, my name is Brian L. Jackson and I’m an Oklahoma father’s rights attorney.