Damages Available in Show Cause Proceedings

One frustrating part about domestic relations judgments and orders has to do with the enforcement of them.  If one party to a case is ordered to do something and fails to do it, the aggrieved party must file a motion to enforce the order.  The result: another court order ordering the party to do what he or she has already been ordered to do!

When a party to a court case fails to comply with the terms of an entered court order, he or she is technically in contempt of court but action on the part of the aggrieved party is necessary to hold the other party’s feet to the fire.  The aggrieved party can seek an order to show cause with the filing of an ex parte motion supported by affidavits.  The order to show cause requires the defaulting party to come into Court and explain to the Court why he or she should not be held in contempt.  Very often, this process is tedious and expensive as well, but compelling the defaulting party to explain himself or herself to the judge under a show cause order also makes a request for “damages” available to the aggrieved party.  For example, if an ex-spouse is obligated to refinance the marital home upon entry of the judgment of divorce and fails to do so, the aggrieved spouse may seek an order to show cause and request damages for the resultant financial strain placed on him or her for, say, a plummeting credit score and subsequent inability to qualify for a mortgage at a decent interest rate.  A request for damages still needs to be supported by evidence demonstrating to the Court that the damage is real and quantifiable, which may require the hiring of an expert to testify.  However, the ability to seek damages in a show cause action is not well-known (and thus under-utilized) and can be a creative and effective way to resolve the conundrum created by litigants who fail to honor or appreciate that orders of the Court should be respected and followed.