Why do judges say “don’t break court orders,” but then do nothing when the order is broken?

Why do judges tell people not to break court orders but then do nothing when the court order is broken?

Reason #1: because of the principle of “easier said than done.” Some judges issue orders that epitomize “let the punishment fit the crime” and at least have a reasonable and realistic chance of being obeyed and enforced. Other judges issue orders that suggest the judge believes that he/she need only say “Thus shall it be written” and thus shall it be done. A judgment or order is only as effective as it is followed. And if the losing party can’t comply or fails or refuses to comply, then it is the responsibility of the winning party to spend more time and money and effort to get the judgment/order enforced. It does not take long before enforcing the hard-won judgment/order becomes more trouble than it is worth.

Reason #2: While it feels good to “do justice” by issuing a terse, pointed order or judgment to the losing party, it’s quite another matter to see the losing party actually suffer the consequences (many of them unintended consequences) when the order/judgment is enforced. Many a judge will tell you that if he/she could go back in time he/she would not have completely flip-flopped on a decision, but would have tempered the decision with a bit more mercy and/or pragmatism. And in those situations when a judge learns down the road that he/she ruled against the wrong party, but cannot change the order/judgment, you can’t blame the judge for being reluctant to enforce such an order/judgment with zeal and alacrity. Thus, when a judge’s draconian order/judgment comes home to roost, judges are often abashed and do little (occasionally even nothing, if they think they can get away with it) to enforce an order they regret making.

Reason #3: people who litigate a lot and lose a lot (come to think of it, also people who litigate a lot and win a lot) soon learn—after the initial pleasant surprise wears off—that just because a court ordered something does not mean one will suffer much, if any, adverse consequences for noncompliance. Why comply, the thinking goes, if there are no penalties for noncompliance?

The moral of this story: unless it’s the principle of the matter which motivates you to sue or defend, winning a judgment or court order does not guarantee satisfaction, and you may be better off compromising or even capitulating. That’s a bitter pill to swallow when you’re the innocent/victimized party, but when the cure is worse than the disease, the wise man’s chooses the course of suffering the least.

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

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