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Contempt: When a Verification Is All You Need

Scott v. Scott, 2021-NCCOA-636 (unpublished).

In North Carolina, contempt is the avenue to enforce many domestic court orders, including those that were part of a separation agreement, but only if the agreement is later incorporated into a court order/judgment. That is the situation in the case below, where the father had agreed to pay $2000 a year toward a college fund for the minor child, but later ceased payment. He was found in contempt, and later appealed.

On appeal, one argument the father put forward was that the trial court erred when it relied on just the mother’s motion to find him in contempt: no witnesses were called, the hearing lasted all of sixteen minutes, and some exhibits were submitted without “context or foundation.” Unfortunately for Father, he did not object at the proper time to the exhibits that he thought were at issue. Moreover, Mother’s motion was treated as an affidavit. In order to do so in the contempt setting, the Plaintiff must make it based on personal knowledge, setting forth facts admissible in evidence, and showing that she was competent to testify to the matters therein. It also was verified, meaning signed with a statement of truthfulness after taking an oath or affirmation before a notary. Since Mother’s verified motion was accepted as an affidavit and set out all the facts needed to show that Father was in contempt, the trial court did not err in exercising its discretion when weighing the verified motion and the documents submitted without objection from Father.

Sometimes, it truly can be that simple. Here, the separation agreement was incorporated into a divorce judgment. That allowed the court to use contempt as a method of enforcing the agreement. Then Mother filed a verified motion for contempt that stated the reasons why Father should be in contempt. She then showed the court that there was an account that Father should have been depositing $2,000 a year, and that Father did not do so. Having a verified pleading, such as this motion for contempt, can be used as an evidentiary basis for a subsequent order of the court. This is why so many times, the verification is a useful tool.