Family Court

Can the “My Lawyer Told Me To Do It” defense prevail in Family Court?

The SC Court of Appeals in Campione v Best recently made a finding of contempt against a former husband for (among other things) failing make certain quarterly payments to his ex wife in violation of the terms of their divorce decree.  Husband’s defense was that he had consulted with a lawyer who told him he was no longer obligated to make the payments, in spite of his clear ability to do so.

The court recognized that it would be bad policy to find a person acting in good faith to be in contempt.  But the court found the facts surrounding Husband’s decision to stop making quarterly payments demonstrated cunning rather than good faith.  The court ruled  “(w)e decline to permit the mere advice of counsel to immunize parties from claims of contemptuously disobeying plain and explicit court orders.”   

The court did not eliminate the “My Lawyer Told Me To Do It” defense, but indicated that it would require all the facts and circumstances to be consistent with person who claims to be acting in good faith.  The “… mere advice of counsel…” with nothing more, is not sufficient to prevent a person from being accountable for their behavior.  

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