Helping Texans with a variety of family law cases, including child custody and divorce.

When must you be released from Jail for Violating a Court Order- Specificity of Motion to Enforce

by | Feb 11, 2024 | Firm News

Statutory Requirements:

The pleading requirements for a motion to enforce are set out in section 157.002 of the Family Code. This provision requires such a motion to include the amount owed, the amount paid, and the amount of arrearages. Tex. Fam.Code § 157.002(b)(1). If contempt is requested, the motion must also include “the portion of the order allegedly violated and, for each date of alleged contempt, the amount due and the amount paid, if any.” Id. § 157.002(b)(2). Thus, a respondent may be found in contempt only for violations that are specifically pled in the motion for enforcement under section 157.002.
In re Office of the Attorney Gen., 422 S.W.3d 623, 56 Tex. Sup. Ct. J. 360 (Tex. 2013)

Contempt of court means disobeying or disrespecting a court’s authority, as explained in In re Luther, 620 S.W.3d 715, 721 (Tex. 2021) (per curiam). It’s considered a serious matter that affects a person’s freedom, so it’s only used when absolutely necessary, according to the same case. Contempt cases are somewhat criminal in nature, which means the accused has the right to due process, as stated in Roisman, 651 S.W.3d at 434. To justify a contempt charge, the court’s order must clearly state what is required, as Luther clarifies, 620 S.W.2d at 722. An unclear order cannot form the basis for a contempt charge. Relief from a contempt charge is given only if the order is invalid, as noted in Luther at 721-22 and Ex parte Shaffer, 649 S.W.2d 300, 301-02 (Tex. 1983). A contempt order given without proper notice is considered void, as mentioned in Roisman, 651 S.W.3d at 435. The person challenging the contempt charge must prove it is void, as upheld in In re Johnston, 07-22-00177-CV (Tex. App. Dec 20, 2022).

In re Johnston, 07-22-00177-CV (Tex. App. Dec 20, 2022)- Medical Support
Lynn was held in contempt for not complying with the following provisions of an underlying order. She argued that the motion asking for her to be held in contempt was not specific enough because it quoted the underlying order which was also not specific enough to let her know exactly what she needed to do to comply. The contested language stated:
Pursuant to section 154.183(c) of the Texas Family Code, the reasonable and necessary health, vision, and dental-care expenses of the children that are not reimbursed by health, vision, or dental insurance, are allocated as follows: WALTER LYNN JOHNSTON is ORDERED to pay 50 percent and CASSANDRA JOY JOHNSTON is ORDERED to pay 50 percent of the unreimbursed health, vision, and dental-care expenses if, at the time the expenses are incurred, WALTER LYNN JOHNSTON is providing health, vision, and dental insurance as ordered.

The Court found that this language, “language fails to provide Lynn notice as to when, how, and in what manner he was required to comply…” In re Johnston, 07-22-00177-CV (Tex. App. Dec 20, 2022). The language was likely found to be non-specific because it failed to say how Lynn was supposed to pay back medical expenses, when she was supposed to pay them back, how she was supposed to pay them back…