Title 15: Domestic Relations
Chapter 11: ANNULMENT AND DIVORCE
15 V.S.A. § 603. Contempt
§ 603. Contempt
(a) Nonfinancial obligations. If a person disobeys a lawful order of the family division made under the provisions of this chapter and the order does not relate to payment of a financial obligation, the person may be subject to proceedings for civil contempt as provided by 12 V.S.A. § 122.
(b) Financial obligations. If a person disobeys a lawful order of the family division made under the provisions of this chapter and the order creates a financial obligation, including payment of child support, spousal maintenance, or a lump sum property settlement, the person may be subject to proceedings for civil contempt as provided by 12 V.S.A. § 122 and the provisions set forth herein.
(c) Parties. The office of child support may institute proceedings in all cases in which the office provides services under Title IV-D of the Social Security Act to either or both parties.
(d) Notice of hearing. The person against whom the contempt proceedings are brought shall be served with a notice of a hearing ordering the person to appear at the hearing to show cause why he or she should not be held in contempt. The notice shall inform the person that failure to appear at the hearing may result in the issuance of an arrest warrant directing a law enforcement officer to transport the person to court.
(e) Rebuttable presumption of ability to comply. A person who is subject to a court-ordered financial obligation and who has received notice of such obligation shall be presumed to have the ability to comply with the order. In a contempt proceeding, the noncomplying party may overcome the presumption by demonstrating that, due to circumstances beyond his or her control, he or she did not have the ability to comply with the court-ordered obligation.
(f) Finding of contempt. A person may be held in contempt of court if the court finds all of the following:
(1) The person knew or reasonably should have known that he or she was subject to a court-ordered obligation.
(2) The person has failed to comply with the court order. If the failure to comply involves a failure to pay child support or spousal maintenance, the person who brings the action has the burden to establish the total amount of the obligation, the amount unpaid, and any unpaid surcharges or penalties.
(3) The person has willfully violated the court order in that he or she had the ability to comply with the order and failed to do so.
(g) Findings of fact. The court shall make findings of fact on the record based on the evidence presented which may include direct or circumstantial evidence.
(h) Order upon finding of contempt. Upon a finding of contempt, the court shall determine appropriate sanctions to obtain compliance with the court order. The court may order any of the following:
(1) The person to perform a work search and report the results of his or her search to the court or to the office of child support, or both.
(2) The person to participate in an employment services program, which may provide referrals for employment, training, counseling, or other services, including those listed in section 658 of this title. Any report provided from such a program shall be presumed to be admissible without the appearance of a witness from the program in accordance with the provisions in 4 V.S.A. § 466(f).
(3) The person to appear before a reparative board. The person shall return to court for further orders if:
(A) the reparative board does not accept the case; or
(B) the person fails to complete the reparative board program to the satisfaction of the board in a time deemed reasonable by the board.
(4) Incarceration of the person unless he or she complies with purge conditions established by the court. A court may order payment of all or a portion of the unpaid financial obligation as a purge condition, providing that the court finds that the person has the present ability to pay the amount ordered and sets a date certain for payment. If the purge conditions are not met by the date established by the court and the date set for payment is within 30 days of finding of ability to pay, the court may issue a mittimus placing the contemnor in the custody of the commissioner of corrections.
(A) As long as the person remains in the custody of the commissioner of corrections, the court shall schedule the case for a review hearing every 15 days.
(B) The commissioner shall immediately release such a person from custody upon the contemnor's compliance with the purge conditions ordered by the court.
(C) The commissioner may, in his or her sole discretion, place the contemnor on home confinement furlough or work crew furlough without prior approval of the court.
(5) Orders and conditions as the court deems appropriate.
(i) Finding of present ability to pay. A finding of present ability to pay a purge condition shall be effective for up to 30 days from the date of the finding. In determining present ability to pay for purposes of imposing necessary and appropriate coercive sanctions to bring the noncomplying person into compliance and purge the contempt, the court may consider:
(1) A person's reasonable ability to use or access available funds or other assets to make all or a portion of the amount due by a date certain set by the court.
(2) A person's reasonable ability to obtain sufficient funds necessary to pay all or a portion of the amount due by a date certain set by the court, as demonstrated by the person's prior payment history and ability to comply with previous contempt orders. (Amended 1969, No. 141, § 1; 1999, No. 147 (Adj. Sess.), § 4; 2005, No. 174 (Adj. Sess.), § 30; 2009, No. 146 (Adj. Sess.), § C15; 2011, No. 119 (Adj. Sess.), § 2.)