STAY AWAY … BUT SEND A CHECK: When Divorce Judgments and Protection Orders Converge
By: Rudman Winchell Attorney Anthony Trask
It is common for those of us who practice in the area of family law to have a client whose marriage ended in sufficiently disastrous fashion that not only is the client faced with a complaint for divorce, but also a complaint for protection from abuse or protection from harassment. In the worst-case scenario, the client is also facing a criminal charge for domestic violence assault.
In situations where minor children are involved, very early on in the divorce process the Family Court will address, on a temporary basis at least, where the children will reside, what contact the non-custodial parent will have with the children, and the Court will typically order one parent to pay the other child support. Occasionally, the Court will issue an interim order that requires one party to pay spousal support as well as various other expenses of the other spouse while the divorce is working its way to a conclusion. A final divorce judgment will include all of these provisions as well as potentially many more obligations on one of the spouses that will require some form of contact with the other spouse.
When a protection order is in place or criminal charges are pending that include bail conditions which prohibit any contact with the other spouse the Court makes it very clear that any form of contact, direct or indirect, is a violation and will result in additional criminal charges of either violating a protection order, violating conditions of release (i.e. bail), or both.
In these situations, a client is faced with the dilemma of choosing to: a) fulfill his or her obligations under an interim order or permanent divorce judgment and in doing so violating the protection order or bail conditions; or, b) ignore the requirements of the interim order or divorce judgment to strictly comply with the requirements of the protection order or bail conditions and avoid additional legal trouble. Admittedly, sometimes the prohibition on contact is used by a spouse to spitefully deprive the other spouse of the benefit of the interim order or divorce judgment, but equally as often the intentions are sincere – the person sincerely wants to support his or her children, but sending a child support check is a clear violation of a no contact provision that could result in new criminal charges.
This was precisely the situation facing the parties in the recent case of Waltz v. Watlz, http://www.courts.maine.gov/opinions_orders/supreme/lawcourt/2013/13me1wa.pdf. In that case the Maine Supreme Court offered its opinion on this subject, ruling that Mr. Waltz was in contempt of court because he had the ability to comply with the divorce judgment and failed to do so. The Maine Supreme Court ruled the no contact provision in the protection from harassment order did not make complying with the divorce judgment impossible because Mr. Waltz had the ability to amend the protection order to allow him to have contact with Ms. Watlz, such as sending her the court-ordered payments.
Parties involved in situations that could result in conflicting court orders should always be careful to ensure that the restrictions put in place by a protection order or bail conditions do not prohibit him or her from satisfying obligations under an order from the Family Court. If you are faced with such a situation, regardless of which side you are on, we encourage you to contact an experienced attorney who can help navigate this sometimes intricate process to ensure no one is deprived of what is rightfully his or hers, and everyone is in compliance with various and potentially conflicting court orders.