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Regina Wexler - Come to Court with Clean HandsIn law, there is a concept called the “clean hands” doctrine. It requires that, when seeking equitable relief from the court, one party cannot request help from the court if their own behavior in the matter has been negative.

Equitable relief is when a party asks the court to order another party to either do something, or prevent a party from doing something.

When people see that their spouse may or may not be following the judge’s rulings to the letter, it can be very frustrating, yet my advice is always the same: “Take the high road. No matter what, take the high road.” Whether the action complained of is worth bringing to the court’s attention via a Motion for Contempt or not, ultimately, having clean hands preserves your credibility in court.

Case Study:

A recent case was decided in Connecticut in which a judge spent many hours hearing testimony and writing a 5-page opinion regarding whether or not a husband was in contempt of court for sending his wife an email that displayed, believe it or not, an animated monkey. The wife had previously sought equitable relief against the husband wherein he was prevented from sending her any negative communication, including name-calling and harassment. Upon receiving this email, the wife filed a motion for contempt, claiming it was in violation of that court order.

The judge decreed that, while the husband appeared to have gone to great lengths to upset the plaintiff, he had done so in ways that did not violate the specific letter of the prior court order and was therefore not in contempt. Instead, the judge expanded his equitable order to further restrict the husband from unnecessary commentary; from accompanying any email with animations, illustrations or photos that are not reasonably necessary; and from sending any communication not related to matters involving the minor children.

In this case, nothing was gained. The court’s time was taken up by an evidentiary hearing; the judge’s time was spent writing a 5-page opinion; the wife is frustrated because she feels the husband was not punished for violating the court order; and the husband feels that anything he does annoys the wife, landing him in court. Thousands of dollars were spent on legal fees. And the people who really need help, who have pressing issues and need the judge’s time and attention, are backlogged.

While the judge presiding over this matter may not be the same judge for the final divorce trial, the contempt motion, the pleadings and the judge’s decision will be in the file, putting into question anything the parties may say or do. The credibility of both the husband and wife are tarnished, all to litigate a “matter of principle”.

That being said, it only takes one party to be unreasonable. And while there are certain things that are worthy of bringing to the court’s attention, there are other things that should be looked past and moved beyond.

They say that in criminal court, we see bad people at their best. In family court, we see good people at their worst. Please do not come to the court asking for relief if your own behavior is something you would not be proud of when a judge hears about it. Take the high road, and keep your hands clean.

Regina M. Wexler, Esq.
Regina M. Wexler
(860) 307-9481