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Appeals and Preserving the Record for Civil Contempt

See CSQuest article Civil Contempt Legal Authority.

Any party may appeal the results of the trial to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. Additionally, an obligor who is facing incarceration may seek extraordinary relief from the Oklahoma Supreme Court through writ proceedings.

Because contempt proceedings are often subject to a high level of appellate scrutiny, State’s Attorneys should be especially cognizant of the need for a thorough and complete record of every stage of a contempt proceeding. It is important that any written pleadings or orders are legible and as free from error as possible. Any errors should be corrected and documented in subsequent filings.

The record should include clear documentation of the procedural safeguards built into the Child Support Services (CSS) process. For example, at the time a plea is entered, the documents must include information that the obligor was informed of his or her rights, as well as evidencing a knowing and voluntary waiver of those rights. CSSs position on appeal is jeopardized if we cannot prove that we complied with the safeguards required by law.

Proceedings that are more likely to result in an appeal, especially sentencing proceedings, should be made on the record with a court reporter present. The record should clearly reflect that CSS elicited information about obligor’s ability to pay and presented that information to the court. To the extent possible, any orders should reflect the court’s findings with regard to the evidence presented by CSS.

In the past, obligors have obtained extraordinary relief from the Oklahoma Supreme Court in cases where the record did not adequately reflect that the court’s purge conditions were crafted with the individual obligor’s circumstances in mind. It is of vital importance that CSS ensures the record is made that adequately supports the court’s order. Accordingly, the State’s Attorney should take steps to build a record on obligor’s ability to pay during both critical time periods: not only during the time when he or she was not complying with the order, but also at the time the court is contemplating incarceration and setting the purge conditions. Whatever purge conditions the court imposes, the State’s Attorney should ensure the record includes evidence showing obligor’s ability to comply with those conditions.