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September 02, 2009

COA Opinion: Contempt proceedings to enforce parenting time orders are civil and not subject to criminal procedural requirements

On September 1, 2009, the Court of Appeals published an opinion in the consolidated appeals of Porter v. Porter and Gravel-Henkel v. Porter, Nos. 284086 and 285095, affirming the trial court's contempt orders. The appeals arose from a divorce proceeding and are related to the defendant's initiation of contempt proceedings to enforce the trial court's parenting time orders regarding the parties' minor child.

In 2007, the trial court had ordered parenting time for the defendant that included two weeks of summer visitation and at least 10 minutes of weekly telephone contact. The defendant filed a motion for an order to show cause why plaintiff should not be held in contempt of court because the summer visitation and telephone contact did not occur. After a show cause hearing, the trial court found the plaintiff in contempt, issued sanctions against plaintiff, and ordered a re-scheduled two weeks of summer visitation. The re-scheduled visitation did not occur, and defendant filed another motion for an order to show cause why plaintiff should not be held in contempt. At the show cause hearing, the trial court ordered plaintiff to pay the previously ordered sanction and an attorney fee for defendant's counsel. After another show cause hearing, the trial court again found plaintiff in contempt and ordered to pay the previously ordered sanctions and attorney fees.

Plaintiff appealed, arguing that the trial court abused its discretion by finding her in contempt because she was not given the procedural protection of a criminal contempt proceeding. Plaintiff also argued that the trial court lacked jurisdiction over the contempt proceeding because an order to show cause was issued without a supporting affidavit attached, as required by the Michigan Court Rules.

The Court of Appeals rejected plaintiff's argument that the proceedings at issue were criminal, and held that these contempt proceedings were civil. The Court of Appeals explained that by exercising its contempt power, the trial court was not punishing the plaintiff, but rather was attempting to coerce the plaintiff's compliance with the trial court's parenting time orders.

The Court of Appeals also held that the defendant's failure to support his motions for orders to show cause with an affidavit, as required by MCR 3.606(A), did not deprive the trial court of jurisdiction to invoke its contempt powers. The defendant's motion to show cause stated with specificity facts regarding missed parenting time and telephone contact. The defendant also signed the motion declaring that the statements were true to the best of his knowledge, and certified the motion under MCR 2.114(D).

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