In a previous post, I have provided an overview of custody and visitation. As a Maryland Custody Lawyer I'd like to provide some information about how disputes over willful denial of visitation can be resolved. One approach is filing a motion for contempt of court. Civil contempt is a process by which private rights such as visitation can enforced. It utilizes the power of the court to incarcerate as a leverage to gain compliance with a court order. Howard County, Baltimore County and Anne Arundel County are a few of the Maryland counties that employ full time Masters for Domestic Relations. This posting will outline the contempt process in counties with full or part time Masters.
The civil contempt process can be used to gain compliance from either the custodial parent or the non-custodial parent. However for sake of this discussion I will assume that a custodial parent is allegedly violating a non custodial parents visitation rights.
The process is initiated by a petition by the non custodial parent asking that the custodial parent be held in contempt. Unless the petition is frivolous on its face, the judge will issue a show cause order. The contents of this order are prescribed by Rule 15-206 . A summons, order and petition are served on the custodial parent who is commanded to come to court and defend against the claim for contempt.
The custodial parent is given an opportunity to file a written response and to appear at an evidentiary hearing on the allegations. At the hearing both parties will be given an opportunity to present evidence and arguments. Following the hearing the Master will prepare in writing recommendations which shall include his findings. He will also include a proposed order. Either party may file exceptions to the Master's findings and recommendations. The dispute then goes to a judge who must make an independent decision giving substantial deference to the Master's findings of fact. If an order is entered, there must be an opportunity for the custodial parent to purge the contempt. In other words, the custodial parent will be given a direct order by the court. If the custodial parent complies the threat of incarceration is lifted.