by Honorable Anne Kass. Ann Kass is a District Judge in the Second Judicial District State of New Mexico
I'm sure we can all agree that people do foolish things. One of the most foolish is to disobey a court order, particularly in a domestic relations court where matters of custody and family support are concerned. And compounding the foolishness are the attempts of attorneys who try to rationalize their clients' disobedience.
Both clients and attorneys often rely on the same two excuses to try to justify disregarding court orders. They are (1) the other side did it first and (2) the court's order was based on dishonest or incorrect information.
Neither of those excuses works.
The age-old lament of, "He or she started it!" is as ineffective in court as it was when we tried to use it with our mothers when we were children. The notion that if I can prove you misbehaved before I did, it will make you responsible for my misbehavior is truly absurd. Each of us is responsible for our own behavior. Totally!
The argument that the court order is unfair or wrong because of a mistake or a lie is also fruitless. If there really is something amiss with a court order, the court must be asked to reconsider it. Only a court can change a court order, and until a change is granted the order must be strictly obeyed. When an order is violated, the old caution: "Nothing is ever so bad that it can't get worse." comes true.
Not long ago a man was in my court whose ex-wife claimed he had paid only part of the child support that he was ordered to pay. The man, aided by his attorney, admitted he hadn't paid all the support, but he claimed the shortage was caused by the mother's dishonesty about the cost of daycare. In other words, she started it. He hadn't asked the court to review the daycare expense. He just jumped to his own conclusion and acted on it. By the time they got to court he owed more than $3,000 in back support.
Investigation proved that he was mistaken about the daycare expense. But even if he had been right, the error would still not have been legal justification for him to violate the court order.
This dad had to pay the delinquent support, plus 15% interest. To make matters worse, he had to pay his ex-wife's legal fees and expenses, which included round-trip airfare for her to attend the court hearing. It cost him an extra $2,000.
There are only two viable excuses for not obeying a court order: Either the party didn't know about it, or the order was impossible to obey. Impossible, not inconvenient or difficult! Attorneys who bring their clients to court with explanations other than these do their clients a terrible and costly disservice.