Unclean Hands

Since the time your Decree of Dissolution was entered, you learned your ex just received a $20,000 raise at work. You also noted that she hasn’t reimbursed you for her half of your child’s select soccer fees. Is now the right time to come back to Court to get your child support order changed and get her to pay those expenses? Will it matter if you haven’t paid your ex your share of your child’s uncovered medical expenses for the past two years?

The main reason parties come to Court on a Motion for Contempt or a Motion to Modify is that they are unhappy with the state of their current Court order. On Motions for Contempt or other enforcement type motions, parties are often seeking the intervention of the Court to force the other litigant to complete some obligation enumerated in the Court order. On Motions to Modify, parties are often seeking a complete rewriting of the obligations within a Court order.

Parties will rush into their attorney’s office, eager for the Court to jump into their case and to correct a perceived injustice. Oftentimes, attorneys get as excited as their clients and want to secure the proper remedy from the Court prior to getting all the necessary information from the client.

In order for a litigant to head to Court and seek relief on either an enforcement or a modification motion, the filing litigant must be following each and every directive within the Court’s order. For example, in order for a litigant to come to Court for a Motion to Modify child support, the litigant cannot be in arrearage on his child support. If that is the case, the litigant may be barred from relief by what the law calls “unclean hands”.

The seminal case in Missouri about this issue is Staples vs. Staples, 895 S.W.2d 265 (Mo. App. E.D. 1995). In that case, the Court barred relief on a Motion to Modify maintenance payments where the filing litigant was in arrearage on his maintenance payments.  The Court held that relief was improper where the order the party failed to comply with was the very order he was seeking to modify.  The Court stated quite frankly: “Parties should not be heard to simultaneously flout and invoke the authority of the Court.” Id. At 267.

If you are looking to come to Court to get your ex to comply with a portion of your court order, or if you’re looking to change the order completely, you must honestly and objectively be able to represent to your attorney that you’ve been in full compliance with your order since the date it was issued. If you are not in compliance, be prepared to have your attorney tell you to take whatever actions are necessary to be able to represent to the Court that you are in full compliance, lest you be barred from all relief for your unclean hands.

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