Logo
Call Now(480)305-8300

Contempt of Court as a Remedy for Unpaid Child Support Arrearages

Posted on : December 27, 2016, By:  Christopher Hildebrand
Contempt of Court as a Remedy for Unpaid Child Support Arrearages

Contempt of Court as a Remedy for Unpaid Child Support Arrearages

Arizona law provides numerous ways a court can enforce child support obligations. Some remedies are found in the Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement of Support Act, (URESA). One of these is contempt of court. A court has authority under URESA to enforce support while the child is a minor. What about after the child has reached majority? In Tande v. Bongiovanni, 688 P.2d 1012 (1984) the Arizona Supreme Court addressed this issue.

Facts and Procedure

Mr. Bongiovanni and Mrs. Tande married in Nevada in 1962. They had two children, one in 1962 and one in 1964. In 1965, the couple divorced in California. The court gave Mrs. Tande custody and ordered the husband to pay child support of $75 per month per child. He made only a few of the required payments.

In 1980, Mrs. Tande lived in Virginia and Mr. Bongiovanni in Arizona. Wife filed support proceedings under Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement of Support Act against Mr. Bongiovanni. Arizona was the responding state.

The Arizona court held a hearing in December 1980. It found that husband had not made payments for ten years. It ordered him to pay $75 per month to support the one remaining minor child. The court did not rule on the issue of back support until it clarified the amount due.

Contempt of Court as a Remedy for Unpaid Child Support Arrearages.

Contempt of Court as a Remedy for Unpaid Child Support Arrearages.

The husband paid the $75 per month payments until the child reached the age of eighteen. The issue of the arrearages remained unresolved. In September 1982, the Pima County Attorney’s Office filed for wage assignment on behalf of Mrs. Tande for arrearages.

The trial court dismissed the action since all post-1981 payments had been made. It found it was without jurisdiction to adjudicate pre-1981 arrearages under URESA once the children achieved the age of majority. Mrs. Tande appealed. The Court of Appeals reversed. It held that the trial court can adjudicate arrearages under URESA even though the children are no longer minors.

The Court further held, however, that contempt was not a proper way to enforce the court decree. The Arizona Supreme Court granted husband’s petition for review. It agreed to address a court’s use of contempt of court to enforce payment of arrears.

Arrearages under URESA

The Arizona Supreme Court agreed with the ruling of the Court of Appeals. It agreed that a court can determine arrearages under URESA even when children are no longer minors. It approved the decision and opinion of the Court of Appeals as to that issue. It then turned to the auxiliary issue.

Can courts use contempt to enforce support orders under URESA after children reach majority?

Hildeband Law, PC.

Cordova Case Enforced Contract

The Court of Appeals ruled that contempt was not a proper way to enforce the court decree. It cited State ex rel. Cordova v. Cordova, 520 P.2d 525 (1974). The Cordova court held that contempt was not available to enforce a judgment for arrearages in child support after a child has reached majority.

The Cordova court (of appeals) stated: The mere fact that this case arises under the Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement of Support Act does not, as appellant would have us hold, enlarge the jurisdiction of Superior Court.

The court in Cordova relied on Ruhsam v. Ruhsam, 518 P.2d 576, that found contempt unavailable. In Ruhsam, the wife was trying to collect support under a postnuptial contract after the child reached legal majority. The duty of support was based on the contract, not on a court child support order. The instant case is not a contract case.

Here, Mrs. Tande is attempting to collect court-ordered child support for the period the child was a minor. Ruhsam, therefore, does not apply.

The Supreme Court ruled that the result is different when the case arises under URESA rather than contract.

Jennifer, thank you for being my attorney. I could not have been more pleased with the outcome of my family court hearing. Everything you have done for me throughout this case reflects in the final ruling of the judge. You helped me keep my head together and taught me a lot about myself as a person. I learned so much about my life from observing and listening to you. I will take all the advice you gave me to continue taking responsibility for my choices, continue to put the kids' needs first, and always stay truthful. Your diligence, dedication, and persistence in my case made what seemed impossible, possible. You are a wonderful person and an amazing attorney and I am stronger and more confident because of you.
A Google User
A Google User
20:31 20 Sep 17
I just want to again thank the Firm for working with me all that it has. I could not have done anything without everyone's assistance. You, Chris and Stacey have been and continue to provide me with compassion and hard work towards my case. Also a very special thanks to Kip for taking my case in the beginning. Also continued support from him and his dedication to providing me with his expertise in this matter.
A Google User
A Google User
21:41 07 Nov 17
After interviewing several law firms, I came across Jennifer Shick, and her firm, who I hired to represent me for my Family Court case. Jennifer has extensive knowledge of the law and is determined to bring the truth to every issue involved within the case. Throughout my case, Jennifer was prepared meticulously as well as went above and beyond all of my expectations. Even when the other party tried to differ from the truth, lie to the Judge, and turn situations around, Jennifer remained attentive and provided substantial evidence to show the judge the facts as well as the proof to support what was the best interests of my children. Additionally, Jennifer helped me endure many difficult experiences, situations and inspired me to remain positive throughout the entirety of my case. Her kindness, compassion, and professionalism helped me through very difficult times and made the process feel a thousand times lighter on my shoulders. She truly has my children and my best interest at heart and I trust her perspective as well as her honesty on each and every aspect of my case. She lessened the burden on my shoulders and even when I felt like the case was not going to go in my favor, Jennifer was open-minded and reassured me that the Judge would, in fact, see the truth, which he did and the case went in my favor. After nine months of court, everything finally came together. I cannot declare how much Jennifer has been an outstanding attorney. She addressed each and every issue with diligence, she cares about her clients and their families. Jennifer genuinely cares about her clients and her dedication to the details of the case was remarkable. Overall, I am extremely pleased with Jennifer’s services and I am truly thankful that I was so blessed to have her represent my children and me. I highly recommend Jennifer as one of the best attorneys in Arizona and if the situation ever arises, I will definitely have her represent my children and me again.
Google User
Google User
14:58 04 Oct 17
Dear Stacey and Kip, How can I ever thank you enough for helping me through the most difficult time in my life? I couldn't put into words my heartfelt gratefulness. You both were so compassionate and professional at every given moment throughout this process with me. I thank you from the bottom of my heart. You helped me to regain my freedom.
A Google User
A Google User
16:03 22 Nov 17
I was a client of Attorney Kevin Park for the dissolution of a divorce in 2016. And since I had never had the need to hire an attorney before for any purpose, I was somewhat apprehensive of the process. But the very calm and professional demeanor of Mr. Park eased my fears. He adeptly answered all my questions and I clearly knew the process and what to expect. And the skilled manner he communicated with opposing counsel was perfect. When it came down to negotiating with my spouse’s counsel, I knew I had selected the best attorney for my situation. What I noticed and appreciated was that he was using just the right amount of pressure with opposing counsel as was necessary. If you find yourself in this situation, you will want a seasoned professional like Mr. Park on your side. I'm very grateful that he was my attorney and not the opposition!
A Google User
A Google User
22:14 28 Jun 17
Chris is a smart and aggressive attorney for his clients. Chris always tries to reach a fair settlement of his cases. I’ve represented clients when Chris was the opposing counsel and while he is professional and amicable to work with, he does not back off on what he needs to do for his client
A Google User
A Google User
18:16 18 Sep 17
Kevin Park of Arizona Estate Planning Attorneys was just what I needed for my divorce. He was very approachable and personable. He was quick to recognize what I needed and provided it quickly and efficiently. I hope to never need a divorce lawyer again, but if I know anyone else who does, I will definitely recommend Kevin.
A Google User
A Google User
19:22 23 Aug 17
I feel that Tracey Van Wickler is certainly one of the best family lawyers around. She is logical, intelligent, and truly cares. Tracey always does what is in the clients best interest, does it well, timely and with integrity. She is good at keeping her clients informed as to what is going on and clear in her communication both written and verbally. I have recommended Tracey to other people and will continue to recommend her. I recommended Tracey to someone who was having issues with their ex-wife and his response was, “I know how good she is because I went up against her and she ate me for lunch”. This same person was so impressed with her, he even recommended her to someone else, WOW, that is impressive! I am exceptionally happy with her attention to detail, her ability to explain things in ways that are easy to understand, as well as her ability to keep everyone focused on the most important things. I would recommend Tracey to anyone who may be in need of her services.
A Google User
A Google User
17:44 23 Jun 16
I retained Hildebrand Law after interview a number of firms in the valley. Working with Michael C. was incredibly easy and informative. My case progressed in such a organized and thought out way to ensure that my needs were met. Michael was incredibly proactive and was able to see far ahead into my case to steer clear of some roadblocks. I would not hesitate to recommend Michael Clancy, and Hildebrand Law in general, to anyone.
Bassam Ziadeh
Bassam Ziadeh
21:20 02 Apr 18
I have worked with Hildebrand law for about 8 years. They are always ready to serve, provide guidance and give you a few options. When they provide you options they also take the time to walk you through the pros and cons of each and give you a recommendation of what is best, but will listen to you and support whatever course you choose after making and educated choice. I’d recommend them to my closest friends and feel Chris Hildebrand is now a friend to me.
Larry Flint
Larry Flint
21:53 27 Feb 18
Despite the unfortunate situation I found myself in, Chris Hildebrand @ Hildebrand Law helped me maneuver every step with professionalism, expertise, and even a sensitivity that was an added bonus.Chris and his staff helped me even when I didn't know I needed the help. In other words. . . they made sure we did not leave anything undone. And in the rare instance we needed the expertise of another professional, Chris knew exactly who to recommend.Chris also knew, because of his experience, what to anticipate down the road of litigation. That meant we were better prepared to meet the challenges head on, which lead to a more equitable and fair outcome. I appreciated that Chris did his best to meet my every need in a timely fashion, even if I had a simple question that required only a phone call or e-mail or if we needed to talk face-to-face.I highly recommend Chris Hildebrand @ Hildebrand Law, PC.
Sam Franchimone
Sam Franchimone
22:09 12 Sep 13

Enforcing Court-Ordered Support under URESA

The URESA statute states: All duties of support, including the duty to pay arrearages, are enforceable by a proceeding under this article, including a proceeding for civil contempt. The defense that the parties are immune to suit because of their relationship as husband and wife or parent and child is not available to the obligor.

Court decisions are split as to whether contempt may be used to enforce a support order once the child attains majority. The majority view holds that contempt may not be used because the children are no longer dependent. Therefore, the purpose and justification for the extreme remedy of contempt terminate.

Contempt of Court for Unpaid Child Support Arrearages.

Contempt of Court for Unpaid Child Support Arrearages.

The minority view is that courts can use contempt to enforce support obligations even after the child reaches majority. The rationale is that failure to pay court-ordered child support remains willfully disobedient after the child reaches majority. The affront to the court is the same. The Supreme Court agreed.

If a custodial parent loses the contempt remedy once the child becomes emancipated, she can only execute on the obligor’s property. If the obligor parent has no property, the custodial parent may have no effective remedy at all. This imposes upon the custodial spouse or society the financial burden that is lawfully the other parent’s burden.

The Arizona Supreme Court found the minority view more persuasive. It ruled that an Arizona trial court can use contempt even after the child reaches majority. It found that this would discourage attempts to stall payments until the children come of age.

Disposition

The Arizona Supreme Court vacated that part of the ruling stating that contempt may not be used to enforce arrearages. It ruled that the use of contempt in URESA proceedings is appropriate even if the children have reached majority. It approved the other parts of the Court of Appeals ruling. The Court overruled the Cordova ruling to the extent it is inconsistent with this opinion. It remanded the matter to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.


 


As Seen on CBS News, ABC News, NBC News, and Fox News

Arizona Estate Planning Attorneys, PC As Seen in the News.

Arizona Estate Planning Attorneys, PC As Seen in the News.


What’s Hot – Blog