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A legal stipulation is an agreement between the parties to a court case that operates to memorialize certain facts and issues that are not in dispute. They facilitate the ends of justice and can save the parties considerable sums of money in attorney fees. Judges look favorably on stipulations. They save everybody in the courtroom time, and they’re of great help in isolating the real issues to be decided.
The key to stipulations is that they must be voluntary. A judge can’t make a party stipulate to anything. Once the parties agree to a stipulation, the court has full power and authority to enforce it, and it frowns upon anybody who changes their mind after stipulating.
When parties divorce, any stipulations between them are reflected in a court order, and they’re expected to comply with that order. Upon the motion of the party seeking to enforce the stipulation, there will likely be consequences.
The petition for contempt
The party seeking to enforce a stipulation can file and seek hearing on a petition to have the breaching party held in contempt of court, but the offending party will be given an opportunity to first show cause why a contempt finding shouldn’t be made. Compliance with the stipulation prior to hearing on the petition might be satisfactory, but the party who brought the petition might be entitled to reimbursement of court costs and attorney fees that were necessary to bring the action.
Ignoring the first hearing
Failure of the withholding party to be present at the first hearing in the contempt process will result in an order to show cause to be entered. Another date is set for a contempt hearing, and the judge will order how notice of the next court date should be served on the breaching party.
Ignoring the second hearing
If the breaching party is served with the order setting the contempt hearing date, and he or she fails to appear for that hearing, the judge is likely to issue a body attachment, and the sheriff is ordered to immediately bring the breaching party before the court. The judge will set a bond on that attachment, and he or she will probably consider the value of the property being withheld in setting the bond amount. The breaching party now has a choice. He can either comply with the stipulation to return the personal property, or he can forfeit his bond. Then comes the issue of attorney fees.
The party who ignored what he had originally agreed to has now required you to incur legal fees for a consultation, drafting and filing of a contempt petition and at least two court dates. All of this could have easily been avoided had he simply turned over your personal property. You’ll likely be awarded your legal fees and any court costs. A judge can make a person painfully aware of the consequences of ignoring stipulations and court dates that are necessary to enforce them.