Contempt of Court Questions
April 18, 2015 2:36 AM   Subscribe

My brother's ex has taken my 2 year old nephew and moved 1,300 miles away to an Air Force Base with her new husband, who she met only three months ago and who has never spent more than a few days with her. She gave notice of this relocation only AFTER the move occurred and refuses to communicate with my brother, who is desperate to know where his child is. She will only communicate with my mother (the child's grandmother) via text messages.

We live in Tennessee. My brother has hired a family lawyer to advise him in this case. I am just an aunt and am not involved in the legal proceedings. I am not looking for legal advice for myself, just wondering what to expect over the next few weeks. What happens when she is held in contempt of court in one state if she is in another state, 1300 miles away? Can they order her to send my nephew home? What impact will the fact that she lives on an Air Force Base and her husband is a current military member have on what happens, if anything at all? Thanks.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
What impact will the fact that she lives on an Air Force Base and her husband is a current military member have on what happens, if anything at all?

Honestly, marrying a servicemember is the best possible thing your ex-sister-in-law could have done -- for your brother. Your nephew's stepfather has a commander, who can order him to obey a court in another state and hand over the child. Make sure your brother's lawyer is in touch with the Arnold AFB JAG (or, if you're near some other Air Force Base, use that JAG), who can communicate with the JAG where your ex-sister-in-law is.
posted by Etrigan at 5:05 AM on April 18, 2015 [46 favorites]


I work in the family court system, but in Indiana. My best estimate is that she will be ordered to appear in TN. Much depends upon what the custody and visitation details were in the original order. She will only be held in contempt if there was an order to begin with and if she has violated those requirements. It's also hard to determine any kind of timeline as jurisdictions vary in how quickly hearings can be arranged and how she might attempt to delay things. If there were no restrictions on where the child lives, it's possible nothing will happen unless your brother takes her back to court for modification. The outcome of any contempt charge is difficult to predict.

Other factors that influence the outcome are whether they were actuay married, paternity being without question, and again, previous orders and what they entail.

Her husband's military status is unlikely to affect anything other than his work does require him to be out of state and that will be considered as a valid reason to move, but my experience is that all that matters is whether she violated a previous order and judges do not take kindly to parents who basically steal their children and are typically less fond of those who have violated their court orders.

I know it's frustrating and unfair and certainly ethically questionable that mom married a man she hardly knew, but that fact is unlikely to affect a ruling unless your brother is trying to prove her irresponsible to allow him modified or primary physical custody.

His atty will get a court date in TN and order her to appear. After that you should have a better idea of what will come next.

Do advise your mother to keep records of all communication, dates and content of texts.

Your brother's atty is the best resource for questions, but you might also try Tennessee.gov for more informatioon particular to your state concerning child custody.

This vague information may not help much, so encourage your brother to meet with his atty as soon as possible and to write down all of his questions ahead of time as well as bring along any previous orders as to custody.

Any parent who interferes or restricts contact between their children and the other parent is personally pretty low in my eyes, so unless she has some concrete, documented fear of your brother's influence on his child, I wish him the best of luck.
posted by seldom seen at 5:35 AM on April 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


I was recently a participant in a multi-week program, many of the participants being military (coast guard being the biggest branch where I live).

As Ertigan points out, the military structure is designed *specifically* to handle these issues, and from what folks in my program said, I got the feeling that being in touch with the JAG in either your area or where the new brother-in-law is get you much faster results than through the courts.
posted by colin_l at 6:29 AM on April 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


Everything here depends on what the legal arrangement was when the ex took the child. Specifically, what were the custody and visitation requirements? Did they have joint custody? Did the ex have full custody, but was required to allow visitation? Was the ex required to inform your brother of any impending move within a specified time frame? Etc. etc.

Nothing in the OP mentions any of this, other than a vague implication of "contempt of court", so it's pretty much impossible to provide any concrete opinions.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:43 AM on April 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


No matter how rightfully pissed your brother is at the loss of reasonable visitation and the abrupt way it happened, it's important that when he speaks on the record he makes it clear that his motive is to be in his kids life, not to punish his ex. He may well be furious, but if there's a vindictive gleam in his eye, he needs to tamp it down.
posted by puddledork at 7:06 AM on April 18, 2015 [18 favorites]


Seldom Seen is correct, and I wish I could mark that best answer for you.

Hopefully, there is an existing order already. When my ex denied my visitation, the first time she got a warning. The second, she got a lecture. The third time, she got 41 days in jail and a substantial fine.

If there is no existing order, then in my experience what will happen next is his ex will hire a lawyer, while telling everyone who will listen that he's a child molesting abusive rapist who drinks and does drugs while torturing kittens. If this is that lawyer's first rodeo, he'll buy in - hook, line and sinker. The lawyer she hired will refer her to a DV shelter for advice and support - someone from there will call your brother's boss and girlfriends and discuss his drunken child molesting abusive ways. They will also argue that the kid is a resident of New State, so your brother will have to do all the traveling. She probably didn't notify Child Support Collections of her new address, so she won't get the checks - She'll sue him for "back" child support, and tell everyone he's also a deadbeat. If he succeeds in getting any visitation, she will call CPS and the police who hopefully have already heard it all, but will go through the motions anyway. Any minor slip up here can result in his losing all access to the child for a long time, so no stress at all.

I can go on, but I think you get the gist. It's not likely to be a pleasant experience for your brother.

What he needs to do is steel himself for this. He needs to never, ever, ever badmouth her. He needs to learn to let this stuff roll off his back. You can support him best by not offering him legal advice - the court system has it's own logic and it does not comport with your notions of cause and effect. Offer to help him pay the lawyer. Offer to help with logistics. He and you should always be the human you want that kid to grow up to be.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:57 AM on April 18, 2015 [8 favorites]


The standard TN parenting plan form says:
The Tennessee statute (T.C.A. § 36-6-108) which governs the notice to be given in connection with the relocation of a parent reads in pertinent part as follows:

If a parent who is spending intervals of time with a child desires to relocate outside the state or more than fifty (50) miles from the other parent within the state, the relocating parent shall send a notice to the other parent at the other parent’s last known address by registered or certified mail. Unless excused by the court for exigent circumstances, the notice shall be mailed not later than sixty (60) days prior to the move. The notice shall contain the following:
(1) Statement of intent to move;
(2) Location of proposed new residence;
(3) Reasons for proposed relocation; and
(4) Statement that the other parent may file a petition in opposition to the move within thirty (30) days of receipt of the notice.
according to a Tennessee lawyer's website:
The intent behind the “Parent Relocation Statute” is to prevent one parent from packing up and moving the child without the consent of the non-relocating parent and the court. The statute aims to keep the child’s best interest as the most important priority when determining whether relocation is appropriate.
and:
The statute, however, designates a different procedure for parents who do not spend substantially equal amounts of time with the child. If the parent proposing the relocation spends the greater amount of time with the child, the relocation will not be prevented unless it does not have a reasonable purpose; it would pose a threat of serious or specific harm to the child; or the relocating parent’s motive for relocating the child is vindictive as in to defeat the non-relocating parent’s right to visitation. The non-relocating parent has the burden of proving that one of these three factors exists. If one of the three listed factors is present, the court will determine whether the relocation is in the child’s best interest.
This case may ultimately be less about contempt and more about modifying the existing court order to establish reasonable visits in light of the relocation. Your brother's attorney may try to negotiate a settlement agreement, which may help avoid a protracted court process. Hopefully, after the mother is served with the court paperwork, she will seek legal assistance and then better understand her rights and responsibilities. The description of her behavior suggests that she has not yet obtained legal advice, but her behavior may change after she consults with an attorney, and she may become agreeable to a reasonable settlement offer. It is difficult to predict, but if the mother gets an attorney, it may actually be helpful for resolving this situation quickly, because then she can have her own advocate saying OMGWTF and encouraging her to be reasonable.
posted by Little Dawn at 9:47 AM on April 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


>If he succeeds in getting any visitation, she will call CPS and the police who hopefully have already heard it all, but will go through the motions anyway. Any minor slip up here can result in his losing all access to the child for a long time, so no stress at all.

If a parent tries to assert allegations of abuse or other unfit behavior without credible evidence, there is a risk of that parent being accused of parental alienation [TN Bar Association], which might be factored into a determination about the child's best interests.

A parent can testify to what they have observed and this can be considered evidence, but repeatedly making extreme allegations without evidence (e.g. CPS or the police show up several times without finding any concerns) may start looking like abusive behavior by the complaining parent. This is one of the reasons why it can be helpful to Get a lawyer [MeFi Wiki] for legal advice before a family court process begins, especially when there are concerns about abuse or neglect.

> The lawyer she hired will refer her to a DV shelter for advice and support - someone from there will call your brother's boss and girlfriends and discuss his drunken child molesting abusive ways.

It is very unlikely that a DV shelter will call your brother's employer or anyone related to the case, because that would be well outside the usual scope of services offered by advocacy organizations and potentially subject the advocacy organization to a variety of lawsuits. It is true that there can be bad outcomes to cases like this, but the concern that an anti-DV advocacy organization will start a negative publicity campaign against a parent is not credible, because that is not what the organizations are designed to do.

> They will also argue that the kid is a resident of New State, so your brother will have to do all the traveling.

Whether your brother is responsible for transportation likely has nothing to do with the legal residency of the child, but the distance and other facts may be relevant to a court's decision. What may happen is that due to the transportation costs, your brother may be able to win significant visitation time, such as most of the summer, and other significant time during school breaks. The outcome of this case will depend on the facts, and your brother's attorney should be able to explain the likely outcomes and how long the court process may take.
posted by Little Dawn at 11:50 AM on April 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


Your brother probably ALSO needs a lawyer in the state where the children are located.
Mark Sullivan wrote "The Military Divorce Handbook" which is published by the ABA. He is worth a consult.
For every optimistic bit of advice and reassurance that "Your nephew's stepfather has a commander, who can order him to obey a court in another state and hand over the child." we can find a half dozen counter examples of the commander buying into the BS and colluding to defy court orders or squash investigations. I think Pogo_Fuzzybutt has the most realistic take on this.
posted by Sophont at 5:05 PM on April 18, 2015


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