Contempt of Family Court: what is required to find a violation of a prior order.

Litigants in family court can sometimes have a difficult time proving contempt due to either poor drafting or incomplete court orders.  

Charleston Attorney Greg Forman recently won a partial victory in the Court of Appeals in the matter of Brantley v Brantley filed on August 30, 2023.  Greg’s client, Mr. Brantley (Dad) was under a temporary order restraining him from changing his child’s school for the duration of the 2018 school year. The matter was then “fast tracked” for a final determination. 

Lo and behold, no final hearing had taken place by the end of the 2018 school year in spite of the “fast track” designation.  Dad believed his son needed summer school classes so enrolled him in summer school outside of Richland’s school district for 2018.  

Mom filed a petition for contempt arguing a violation of the temporary order in that Dad had moved their child’s school without consent or order of the court.  Dad argued that his son completed the 2018 school year as required by the terms of the Temporary Order. 

In a rather straightforward ruling, the Court of Appeals found that Dad was not restrained from enrolling his child in a school out of his son’s district beyond the 2018 school year.  The Court ruled that civil contempt occurs when a party willfully disobeys a clear and definite court order.  In spite of the Temporary Order, Dad’s obligation to leave the child in Richland School District past the end of the school year was not a “clear and definite” order.  Inferring from the language of the Temporary Order a permanent restraint on moving the child’s school was not a clear and definite restraint that would allow for a finding of Contempt.  

Guy Vitetta, Charleston

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