October 2019 | No. COA18-1234 (N.C. Ct. App. 2019)

Unger v. Unger (North Carolina 2019)

Criminal contempt for child support is appropriate when the contempt addresses past violations of a child support order. The inclusion of a purge provision doesn’t change the contempt to civil. The father failed to make child support payments, and in 2012, the mother filed for contempt. The parents reached an agreement, which was captured in an order. The order included a 30-day jail sentence, which was suspended, and further provided that ff the sentence was imposed, the father could purge himself of the contempt and shorten the sentence. The father again failed to pay, and the court entered an arrest order. The record isn’t clear as to what happened with the arrest order, but six years later, the father motioned for relief under Rule 60 from these orders. The Court dismissed the motions, and the father appealed. On appeal, the father argued that the use of the word “purge” voided the first  order because there was no mention of how he could purge the contempt. The appellate court disagreed and found the contempt was criminal, and the sentence punished the father for past behavior. The court of appeals noted that it has held that a purge provision does not change a suspended criminal sentence into civil relief. The court of appeals found his other claim for fraud was time-barred.

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