One of the most common causes of litigation between parties after a final domestic relations order is entered is the violation of that order. Whether it is a divorce decree, custody order or support order, compliance with its provisions is crucial to avoiding what is known as the "Rule to Show Cause" in Virginia. The law provides for punishment of the violator of court orders through the court's civil or criminal contempt powers. In the context of family cases, the court is alerted to a party's violation of an order through the filing of a Petition for a Rule to Show Cause by the other party. When a court order is violated, the party invoking the court's contempt powers must file a petition detailing the violation of the order by the other party and must include a full copy of the order that was violated along with the petition. A general allegation that the other party has violated a court order will not be sufficient basis for imposition of sanctions. Therefore, it is important to be specific about the alleged violation in the petition.
The petition seeks the imposition of sanctions against the violating party, which may include a fine, jail time with or without a "purge bond" (typically in support cases, an amount set by the judge to be paid by the violator in order to secure release from jail), payment of attorneys' fees, or suspension of a driver's license. The petition is then personally served on the violating party. When the petition is filed, the court will set a date for the violating party to appear and show cause why he/she has violated the court order. If the court finds that the order was violated, it will have the discretion to impose sanctions as it deems appropriate. Also, if requested, attorneys' fees are likely to be awarded if the court determines that the order was violated.
It is important to note that even if the alleged violation is of an agreement between the parties, a Petition for a Rule to Show Cause may be filed and sanctions may be imposed so long as that agreement was incorporated in a court order. A common example is where the parties settle their divorce through a Property Settlement Agreement, including provisions regarding support, the agreement is incorporated into the parties' Final Order of Divorce, and then the obligor fails to pay support as required by the agreement. Since the agreement was incorporated into the order, it essentially becomes part of the divorce decree and, although its terms were dictated by the parties and not the court, violation of the agreement is equivalent to violation of the order.
Also important to note is that, in support cases, the payee's acceptance of a lower amount of support is not considered waiver of the support obligation in a court order and can still subject the payor to a Rule to Show Cause. That is why it is important to abide by the court order so long as it is in effect and seek modification when necessary. Otherwise, sanctions may be imposed.
Whether you have been served with a Rule to Show Cause or you are seeking to enforce a court order that has been violated, contact our office to schedule a consultation and get advice.