A state lawmaker representing Evergreen was jailed in December for contempt of court in a divorce proceeding. State Rep. Tim Leonard (R – Evergreen) was sentenced to 14 days in jail and released before the New Year, according to jail records. The case is significant for those interested in family law and Colorado state history.
Leonard is the first sitting state legislator to be jailed in nearly 40 years. Although it is rare for lawmakers to be jailed while in office, instances of contempt of divorce decree are more common. Those who could face divorce should be aware of the definition and consequences of contempt.
What is a divorce decree?
Marriage is a legally binding contract. To break that contract, a couple must go through the divorce process. A divorce is finalized with a “divorce decree” and “Permanent Orders” which outline the terms of a couple’s relationship after divorce including child custody agreements and alimony.
Like a marriage contract, the permanent orders are legally binding and must be followed. If an ex-spouse were to violate these terms, he or she could be held in contempt of decree, as was the case with Rep. Leonard.
What is contempt?
You’ve probably felt contemptuous as an emotion in the past – that is a feeling of disgust and disdain like someone is not worthy of your respect or concern. The legal definition of “contempt” is similar to this feeling. A person can be held in contempt of court for willfully disregarding or disrespecting the authority of a court and its magistrates or violating an order of court.
How does it apply to this case?
Rep. Leonard’s case is especially tricky because he was held in contempt for violations related to his children’s educational decision-making. Meanwhile, in his duties as a legislator, he sits on the House Education Committee and is entrusted to make decisions related to the state’s education policy
This precarious situation has drawn criticism from political partisans, but numerous public officials have come to his defense as a lawmaker. Ultimately, his fitness for duty as a state representative is left up to the court of public opinion and not the court of law.
It is important to understand that the divorce process is complicated and can take time to fully understand. Just like the legislature when considering a bill, a family law attorney has the duty to review the nuances of your situation before a divorce is finalized.