What A Maryland Judge Can and Cannot Do in Your Family Law Case If You Fail to Comply with a Court Order

Dealing with family law issues can be difficult and challenging, emotions usually run high and family members often make decisions hastily without using their better judgement. The sensible thing to do when dealing with family law issues is to adhere to the orders handed by the judge. However, if you fail to follow every order to the letter, there are limits to what the judge can do on the counts of disobeying an order. To stay on track and avoid incurring penalties due to failure to obey an order, it is best to consult an experienced Maryland family law attorney.

In this case, Patty is mother to a child with her husband, Luke. In April 2017, the child complained of injuries inflicted by Luke. Luke was charged with child abuse. Soon after that, Patty and Luke were in court where Luke requested the judge to issue a protective order against Patty. The judge took Luke’s side and issued an order for Patty to stop abusing, threatening to abuse, or harassing Luke.

And then, Patty and Luke were back again in court with Luke claiming that Patty was sending him threatening text messages. It was found that Patty had sent Luke a number of inappropriate text messages, but this was several weeks before they went to court. The judge found Patty guilty of “constructive civil contempt” of the court. Patty appealed and won with the reason that although Luke alleged that she did those things, she could not be found to be in constructive civil contempt of the court.

What is the difference between direct contempt and constructive contempt in Maryland?

In Maryland, an act of direct contempt is something that a person does in front of or in the presence of a judge in court. For example, if the judge ordered Patty and Luke to keep from harming or threatening harm to each other, but one of them openly threatens the other in court, then that is a direct contempt of the court. It also means uttering directly highly inappropriate comments or language to the judge. On the other hand, constructive contempt is a type of contempt that does not fall within the concrete definition of direct contempt.

If you have failed to exercise timely compliance with a court’s order, but have otherwise brought yourself into compliance, you cannot be put under constructive civil contempt. Patty could not be guilty of constructive contempt, since at the time of the court hearing, she was already in compliance. The court had ordered that Patty must stop sending inappropriate or threatening messages to Luke for at least thirty days. It was found that the last of these messages were sent more than eighty days prior to that point.

Eventual compliance, although not timely, dismisses the chance for an individual to be held in constructive contempt of the court. The court is limited to deliberate against an individual or party for criminal contempt in which punishment is issued for a previous violation of the law.

In this case, Patty was already compliant at the time of the court hearing date. Thus, she could only be found for criminal contempt, and not civil contempt. She was entitled to a reversal of the constructive civil contempt of court. Of course, the safest and best path to take when dealing with domestic violence or any other family law issue is to adhere to the judge’s orders. Nevertheless, if you fail to perfectly comply, it is also important to be aware of what the judge can and cannot do to you. For solid advice and to ensure that your rights and interests are protected, please consult an experienced Maryland family law attorney.