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A Word from Scott Shaw: The Right to Notice in Contempt Proceedings

The number one question I’m asked is if I’m a fighter and will I fight for my clients.  The answer is, of course, yes.  It’s what I do.  But the answer is not always that simple.  You don’t want an attorney who talks big, talks a lot, yells, is abusive, or is in your face.  What you really want is an attorney who is unafraid, knows the law, knows the facts, knows how to argue the facts and the law, how to get your facts admitted into court, and how to get the court to then see things your way.  If the court won’t, your lawyer also needs to know how to maintain the record so you can win on appeal. What you want isn’t just a fighter but a great attorney with a backbone.

One such area is contempt of court cases.  A judge can try to bully parties to try a contempt issue when it is not fair and proper to have it heard.  Contempt of court is quasi-criminal, and you are entitled to notice and sufficient time to prepare a defense if you are charged with contempt of court.

Notice and Time to Prepare

A recent decision that isn’t the tennis match that is sounds like (Nadal v. Nadal, A20A0770, Ga. App. June 23, 2020) makes sure you have the right to notice and time to prepare a defense if your spouse or significant other brings a contempt charge against you.  Any attorney worth their salt will argue this right for you and then prepare your defense.

What does this mean in practice? What often happens is a hearing will be “noticed.” This can be a notice of hearing or a “Rule Nisi.”  The notice will not specifically specify contempt and will instead say something like “temporary hearing.”  

Then, when you arrive at court, the other party will bring up a surprise contempt claim, or try to turn it into a final hearing when all you’ve prepared for is a temporary hearing. Or, frankly, it may be best just to delay hearing any contempt or final hearing.  Whatever the reason, you’re stuck when the judge says, “Let’s do a final hearing on contempt.”

Exercising Your Rights

What Nadal v. Nadal tells us is you don’t have to take such an unfair surprise from an opposing attorney, or even from the judge and court. You can say no. Since the hearing was noticed for a temporary hearing, you were ready to proceed as it was noticed.  We are not required to proceed on any issue that we were not given proper notice for and we will not litigate that issue on the same day. 

A lesser attorney may rant and cave, but a good attorney will site Nadal.  We don’t cave because we follow the law.  That’s how a great attorney will fight for you. We are Georgia divorce and child custody attorneys. This is all we have done since 1995.  We can help. If you need help or have any questions, we would be happy to speak with you via email, text, or phone.