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Does a civil contempt hearing with a commissioner differ from a lawsuit or trial with regards to possible defenses one can use?

Everett, WA |

I have a civil contempt hearing coming up soon . I was advised in an earlier post that most of the decision is determined prior to hearing based on the evidence provided . At the hearing the responding party was ordered to seek public defense . I was told this was a good sign b / c it likely meant that the evidence provided proved my case and commissioner wanted to ensure proper procedure . Respondent is represented by counsel . I am wondering if a hearing setting limits the types of defenses counsel can raise such as demurrers , motion for dismissal , to strike to compel , for voluminous discovery , subpoenaing witnesses etc . When I look at the definitions of such , they appear to refer to lawsuits . Does the outcome of a civil hearing solely boil down to evidence or would defense use any / all above

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Attorney answers 3


Normally a contempt hearing is held based on written sworn declarations, but the Commissioner can authorize testimony. The procedure is very different from a full trial. You need to consult with a good lawyer. It’s always best to consult with a good family law attorney to discuss the details before you act. See my AVVO Legal Guides on contempt for more information about the legal issues raised by your inquiry. Click on my photo. On my AVVO home page click on "View Contributions" or scroll down further and click on "Legal Guides." Scroll down the list of my 29 Legal Guides and select the topics relevant to your question. If you like my answer and Legal Guides, please make sure you mark them as “helpful.”

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Domestic relations law is very different from other types of civil law, and it is state specific (whatever research you've been doing doesn't seem to be related to Washington, first hint being that this state doesn't use demurrers). Contempt in family law is a motion within another case (usually relating to a parenting plan or child support order), so it is not as much of a production as a full case going to trial like what it sounds like you're anticipating. There is no formal discovery and no testimony is taken--all statements must be submitted ahead of time as sworn declarations. The following links may be helpful in getting an idea of what to expect, the first is contempt basics and the second is responding to a contempt motion (to see what types of things the other party's attorney may be focused on, such as showing that the person was willing but unable to comply with the court order). You may also want to consider sitting in on the family law motions won't necessarily see a contempt hearing on a given day, but you can see how the commissioners run their courtrooms. You should also make sure you follow the local rules about working papers--it is essential that the commissioner have all your evidence properly submitted for consideration.

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The respondent can be ordered to seek public defense based on the relief you requested in your motion, especially if you requested jail as a sanction.

The elements for contempt are: (1) existence of a valid court order requiring or prohibiting the conduct for which contempt is sought; (2) contemnor's knowledge of the existence and contents of the court order; (3) failure to comply with court order without good cause; (4) contemnor's notice of contempt hearing and opportunity to be heard; and (5) complained of conduct merits a finding of contempt.

The court is going to consider all of the evidence presented, and the respondent will need to rely on his/her reason for violating the court order. Page limits do apply, and the limits vary depending on local court rules. Respondent could object to evidence you present if you go over the page limits, and the commissioner may not consider the evidence.

This answer is not intended nor shall it be deemed to be the rendering of legal advise, it is given based on the information provided which is insufficient to give meaningful advise. This answer shall not be construed as part of the creation of an attorney-client relationship, nor shall it impose an obligation on the part of the attorney to respond to further inquiry. The Questioner has responsibility of obtaining legal advise from an attorney and is urged to do so.

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