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Civil Contempt, Criminal Contempt, and Motions to Show Cause



In this episode of Law Talk, Tonya Graser Smith joins Bill Powers in a discussion regarding the differences between Criminal and Civil Contempt, possible penalties and sanctions for each, and the real-world application of the NC family laws to disputes.


Narrator: You're listening to Law Talk with Bill Powers, your resource for answers to your most pressing legal questions. Attorney Bill Powers sits down with some of today's leading legal minds to discuss everything from legal issues and legislation to practice tips and policy. Now, here's your host, an NBTA Board Certified Criminal Law Specialist, former president of the North Carolina Advocates for Justice and renowned trial lawyer, Bill Powers.

Bill Powers: Family law matters are one of the most queried inquiries on Google. That's understandable given that divorce affects at least 50% of all married couples. It doesn't matter if you're from San Francisco or the Great State of Mecklenburg or whether you're a person of faith or a non-believer. Divorce affects more than one half of all marriages or more in the United States. The Google inquiries regarding child custody, child support, visitation, and related disputes are off the chart in part given the complexity and sensitivity, if not emotional aspects of such legal issues. The purpose of this particular topic on Law Talk is to explain big picture ideas, hopefully explain the process and the logic behind the law and how things actually work in court. Sometimes we agree with the laws and sometimes frankly, we don't. It's a good idea to set forth from the outset some general thoughts about the content that you're about to hear.

First, it's okay if you have questions. In fact, it's a good idea to predicate big decisions on information. You're not a bad person if you're thinking about divorce or how divorce may affect you. It's also okay to gather information and decide to do nothing. Good decisions often involve good information.

Second, when it comes to family law issues involving separation, divorce, equal distribution, child support, and alimony, do not rely on anecdotal evidence or advice. While often well-meaning, the information provided by friends and family is all too often flat out wrong. In some instances, following the advice of a friend or family member can cause long-term extremely adverse consequences. What worked for your best friend's sister's cousin likely is completely inapplicable to you, your family and your individual needs and concerns.

Third, as a result, while we may be going over some pretty complicated material today on Law Talk, each case is different. You and your legal issues are truly unique. If you have questions about what to do, talk to a lawyer, schedule a formal consultation. You, your life and your family deserve the attention of a dedicated family law attorney.

Fourth, expect to pay a legal fee for legal advice. There is no one size fits all precept in family law. You're not going to solve a complicated legal issue with a five minute conversation over the phone. There are possible conflict areas. Lawyers have to gather information to conduct a conflict check. A lawyer's stock and trade is their time. Don't confuse a consultation with legal advice. They are separate and distinct. Lawyers generally aren't going to be willing to give specific legal advice, assuming the legal liability for such unless they know the background circumstances and the facts. My guest is, in my humble opinion, one of the best family law attorneys in all of North Carolina. She's well-versed in law, compassionate, hardworking, competitive, detail-oriented, and wicked smart. She's also a friend and someone I respect both personally and professionally. Today, we're joined by attorney extraordinaire, Tonya Graser Smith. Good morning Tonya.

Tonya Graser Sm...: Good morning Bill. It's good to see you and it's good to be here. I always enjoy talking to you about all of the different things, law and legal, and looking forward to our chat today.

Bill Powers: Well, great. Great. Well, let's jump right in then let's talk about one of the most widely, I think, misunderstood areas of family law even among divorce lawyers in Charlotte and that's contempt. There's civil contempt, criminal contempt, motions assault, show cause and things like that. You're a board certified specialist in family law. Do you agree with me on that?

Tonya Graser Sm...: Yes, I do agree with you that it's an issue that is misunderstood by the public, is misunderstood by many lawyers, is also misunderstood by family lawyers who are trying to use it for their clients.

Bill Powers: Right. Well, and I think personally, and again, I'm going to defer on you on this, but I think there are a fair number of people and it's not an intentional thing that there's just a fundamental misapplication of certain types of contempt, particularly in Charlotte. And maybe we can back up a little bit and have you kind of define and explain some of the common terms that divorce lawyers use. We do use a lot of abbreviations like ED, it stands for equitable distribution and PSS which stands for post-separation support and QDRO and Rule 11 and Chapter B or 50B. So can you kind of tell me... Now what is a motion to compel? What is a motion to show cause and contempt motions? What generally is that in family court in Charlotte?

Tonya Graser Sm...: So first of all, let me backtrack a little bit and talk about how you get a court order. You get a court order by either agreeing with the other person on the terms to resolve your matter and you ask a judge to sign off on that court order, that's commonly called a consent order, meaning that both of you all consented to what was going to be in there and what terms were going to govern you going forward. Specific with family law, what terms are going to govern your children? What custody schedule are you all going to have? What child support amounts are you going to have? When is that child support going to be paid? Is it going to be paid weekly? Is it going to be paid monthly? Which parent's going to pay it? So it's all of the specific terms of what rules you're going to play by going forward.

Part 2 >>

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