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I took my ex-wife to court for contempt and the commissioner agreed on all counts of my motion but still didn't find contempt.

Bothell, WA |

Failure to reimburse expenses, violation of the vacation provision by taking more consecutive weeks than allowed, taking a second vacation after already violating with the first one, failure to inform me with plans when taking the children out of state, failure to make any attempts to mediate on her own, failure to mediate my attempts and frustrating the mediation process by saying she won't mediate disputes but will only mediate that I pay more child support, making unilateral decisions in violation of the joint decision making... There are more but I'm running out of room. The commissioner lectured her on each point, said she was acting in bad faith and was being difficult just to be difficult. The commissioner did not rule contempt in the end. What good is an order??

Attorney Answers 3


It's only good as a warning to her. You can hope that the court next time will remember that she was given one more chance to mend her errant ways.

Other than that, this is why staying out of court is prudent. Even experienced attorneys can't guarantee what a judge will do.

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Did you immediately file a Motion for Revision? Do it ASAP, because you usually only have 10 days from the order. This motion lets a Judge review the Commissioner's decision. Sometimes you actually win. These are complicated questions. You should immediately consult with an experienced family law attorney. See my AVVO Legal Guides on contempt and motions to revise for more information about the legal issues raised by your inquiry. To find my Legal Guides, go the AVVO website at; click on “Find a Lawyer”; get to my AVVO home page by clicking on my name or photo; when you get to my AVVO home page scroll down to "Contributions" and then click "Legal Guides." You will get a list of the 29 Legal Guides I have published on AVVO. Scroll down this list and select the topics that are relevant to your question. You may also want to schedule a free ½ hour consultation with me by calling my office at 253-815-8440.

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The harsh reality is that contempt is a very ineffective and unwieldy remedy for the kinds of disputes that occur in family court. It is a blunderbuss of a penalty that, because it is quasi-criminal in nature, carries all sorts of legal protections and limitations in favor of the alleged contemnor. These special issues are distractions to the nature of the case -- ie., marital dissolution and allocation of assets and custody. Contempt proceedings draw on issues in which both legal counsel and the court are almost always markedly under-equipped. Experienced family law judges will admit (privately) that the family law system should be reformed so that family law courts have a more effective array of remedies, reserving contempt only for truly major, singular, and egregious acts such as absconding with children.

It is particularly ineffective to have contempt as the potential remedy in a legal field that is so vastly populated by persons representing themselves. The harsh reality is that even a big proportion of the family law bar does not truly know how to successfully prosecute -- or defend -- a contempt action, and virtually no one representing themselves can do it correctly to a standard that will survive appellate review.

In a high-asset marital case, contempt , if utilized at all, is handled by special and limited contempt counsel, an attorney who will not be responsible for all of the rest of the less adversarial processes of the case including on-going interactions with the court and opposing counsel. Most often contempt counsel is a former prosecutor or public defender (high-volume criminal practice being one of the few legal areas where substantial contempt experience can be acquired). Where these kinds of efforts and resources cannot be utilized, the marital case and its individual and issue-specific disputes should be handled some other way by resort to some other remedy. Contempt is useless and ineffective in typical family law circumstances, especially if it is wielded by pr se litigants, and even if the court is somehow persuaded to make the finding.

My responses to questions on Avvo are never intended as legal advice and must not be relied upon as legal advice. I give legal advice only in the course of an attorney-client relationship. Exchange of information through Avvo's Questions forum does not establish an attorney-client relationship with me. That relationship is established only by individual consultation and execution of a written agreement for legal services.

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