The Legal Background section defines terms used in the civil contempt process and lists legal authorities that affect how CSS pursues contempt actions.
The Legal Definitions section defines words and phrases used in the context of civil contempt for child support, including appearance bond, indirect contempt of court, purge, purge conditions, and willful.
The Legal Authority section lists state and federal authorities that govern how CSS pursues civil contempts for child support, including Oklahoma Statutes, Oklahoma Rules of Professional Conduct, District Court Rules, Oklahoma Administrative Code, state and federal case law, and federal Office of Child Support Enforcement guidance.
Introduction and Overview of Civil Contempt
CSS uses the contempt process to coerce or compel payment of support, never to punish. Most contempt actions will result in the setting of purge conditions under which the obligor agrees to pay current child support and a monthly amount on past due support. If the obligor complies with the purge conditions, the contempt will be purged. If the obligor fails to comply, the court may impose a jail sentence or fine.
Should the Office File a Contempt Action?
Before deciding to pursue a contempt action against an obligor, attorneys and staff should consider two questions: whether CSS can show the obligor’s non-payment was willful and the obligor has the present ability to pay or meet other purge conditions. Filing a contempt action may be an appropriate remedy when the answer to both these questions is “yes.” If CSS cannot show the obligor’s non-payment was willful, a finding of guilt may not be possible. If the obligor has no present ability to pay or meet purge conditions, CSS does not seek incarceration.
Once the obligor is located, CSS staff reviews information available and screens the case to determine if civil contempt is an appropriate enforcement action.
Review and Research
As part of the screening process, CSS workers find information regarding the obligor’s ability to pay child support, both during the contempt time period and at present. Workers consult a variety of sources, including OSIS, Westlaw, Family Assistance/Client Service (FACS), Oklahoma State Court Network (OSCN) and On Demand Court Records (ODCR).
Screening Documents for CP and Obligor
If, after a review of OSIS and other databases, there is not enough information to proceed with the contempt, workers generate and mail out Request for Information questionnaires, CC16 (for CP) and RINCOV/RINCP (for NCP). In some circumstances, the questionnaires may be unnecessary.
Determining Whether a Customer is represented by an Attorney
CSS workers are bound by the Oklahoma Rules of Professional Conduct, which do not allow communication with a represented party without the consent of their attorney. To determine if parties are represented, workers review OSIS and other databases for an attorney of record or other evidence of representation.
Caseworkers share all available information with the State’s Attorney, who does a legal review of the case. The State’s Attorney reviews all available information and determines whether to proceed with the contempt.
Once the State’s Attorney determines contempt is an appropriate remedy, workers prepare appropriate court filings. Although cases that reach this stage are prepared for trial, court proceedings may be discontinued at any time at the discretion of the State’s Attorney.
Workers generate the Contempt Pleading Packet included in the Appendix, which includes the Contempt Notice of Rights, Application for Contempt Citation, Citation for Contempt, and Subpoena Duces Tecum.
Amounts for the Application for Contempt Citation and Citation for Contempt
Workers complete an arrearage computation, verify the total arrears amount, and calculate the amount due for the contempt time period based on the instructions provided in this section of the Contempt User Guide.
Service of Process
After the Contempt Pleading Packet has been filed, it must be served upon the obligor or obligor’s attorney. Without proper service, the case cannot move forward.
Court proceedings may be discontinued at any time at the State’s Attorney’s discretion.
During arraignment, the obligor should be advised of his or her rights, asked if he or she would like to retain or have counsel appointed, and is asked to enter a plea. The way arraignment is handled varies based on circumstances and the preferences of the court.
When there has been proper service and the obligor fails to appear at court, CSS requests a Bench Warrant be issued. If it is authorized by the court, CSS prepares the Bench Warrant using the document included in the Appendix. The warrant is then served on the obligor, usually by the sheriff.
At trial, CSS attempts to prove that the obligor is guilty of civil contempt for non-payment of child support, while the obligor is given an opportunity to present a defense. The court rules on the civil contempt based on the evidence presented.
CSS Burden of Proof
In order to meet its burden of proof, CSS must prove each of the elements of civil contempt by clear and convincing evidence. After offering the evidence, the State’s Attorney requests a finding of guilt, a judgment for past due support, and, when appropriate, a license revocation or probation order.
Defenses at Trial
At trial the obligor is given the opportunity to present a defense. Most often this is successfully done by proving the obligor is not the person who owes support, showing that the obligor actually did pay the support, or by showing the failure to pay was not willful.
Finding of Not Guilty
If the court finds the obligor not guilty, a judgment is entered stating that the obligor was found not to be in contempt. Even if the obligor is found not to be in contempt, CSS may request a judgment for past due support or other enforcement actions as appropriate, using the documents included in the Appendix.
Finding of Guilt
If the court finds the obligor guilty after a hearing, a judgment is entered and immediate execution of sentence may be requested.
Instead of having a trial, the obligor may waive the right to a trial and enter into a plea agreement.
Evidentiary Hearing on Ability to Purge
Any time the obligor is subject to incarceration or a fine, the court must set purge conditions. The State’s Attorney offers evidence or elicits testimony about the obligor’s present ability to pay a purge fee. The State’s Attorney then requests the court set a purge fee in accordance with the evidence, or other conditions as appropriate.
Judgment on Child Support Contempt Citation
The Judgment on Child Support Contempt Citation included in the Appendix is used to document the findings of the court and set a future sentencing date if necessary. The Judgment also sets a payment plan for the full amount of support owed and may order additional enforcement actions.
At sentencing, the court determines whether the obligor should be imprisoned or if other purge conditions should be set to compel compliance as an alternative to imprisonment. If the court determines the obligor should be in jail, CSS must ask the court to set purge conditions. The State’s Attorney must request an evidentiary hearing on the ability to purge per Section VI. D. above in order to set a purge that is appropriate to the obligor’s present ability to pay. This phase of the court proceedings may occur directly after the trial or at a later time, depending on the court.
Appeals and Preserving the Record
Any party may appeal the results of the trial to the Oklahoma Supreme Court, where the proceedings are often subject to a high level of scrutiny. As a result, State’s Attorneys and staff should make a complete and thorough record at each stage of contempt proceedings.
Subsequent Contempt Proceedings
Once the obligor has been found guilty or not guilty of contempt for certain time periods, the obligor cannot be cited for contempt for those time periods again. Subsequent contempt’s must be based on nonpayment for different time periods.