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Civil Practice – Contempt – Form Order – Appeals – Domestic Relations – Child Support

Civil Practice – Contempt – Form Order – Appeals – Domestic Relations – Child Support

County of Durham v. Hodges (Lawyers Weekly No. 011-002-18, 18 pp.) (Donna Stroud, J.) Appealed from Durham County District Court (Fred Battaglia, J.) N.C. App.

Holding: Even though a form order was only partially filled out, it was signed by the judge and filed. Therefore, it was a valid order, and defendant’s appeal from the form order deprived the trial court of jurisdiction to enter a subsequent, more detailed order.

We reverse the trial court’s June 14, 2016, order finding defendant in civil contempt of his child support obligations. We vacate the trial court’s more detailed June 17, 2016, order.

Defendant met his burden to show cause as to why he should not be held in contempt, presenting evidence from two treating physicians that he is physically incapable of gainful employment. DSS presented no evidence and did not refute defendant’s evidence at all. All of the evidence showed that defendant was at all relevant times physically incapable of employment.

Since there is no evidence to support the required findings of fact, we need not remand for additional findings of fact. Instead, we reverse the June 14 order, which contained no findings of fact or other substantive content.

It appears the trial court simply wanted to ensure that defendant could be immediately placed into custody at the conclusion of the June 14 hearing and used the form order to accomplish this result. The June 17 order is a detailed order with many findings of fact which took more time to prepare.

We understand the trial court’s dilemma. Since district court judges have no staff to assist them in preparation of orders despite the urgent need for many orders each day, our judges have to find ways to get the work done. But we caution judges and counsel that a written, signed, and filed document which claims to be an order is an order, so it must include the elements required of an order. If that order resolves all disputed issues as to all parties, it is a final and appealable order.

Vacated and reversed.



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