A Primer on Enforcing a Standing Order

Standing Order -- Generally Enforceable by Contempt  

A standing order is, by definition, a "forward-looking order that applies to all cases pending before a court."  In re Inquiry Concerning Honorable (Ginsberg), 2018 Tex. LEXIS 525, *26-27, 2018 WL 2994940 (Sp. Ct. of Review Appt. By the Supreme Court of Texas 2018) (defining Order, standing orderBlack's Law Dictionary (9th ed. 2009) ("Some individual judges issue a standing order on a subject when there is no local rule bearing on it, often because a rule would not be acceptable to other judges on the court.")).   A court's standing orders accordingly are binding on the parties to the cases before it.  Id.

Chapter 157 of the Family Code specifically includes a "standing order" as a type of temporary order that may be enforced under that chapter.  Tex. Fam. Code § 157.001 (e).  A standing order relating to property may also be enforced by contempt.  In re Caldwell-Bays, No. 04-18-00980-CV, 2019 Tex. App. LEXIS 2367, at *22 (Tex. App.—San Antonio Mar. 27, 2019, orig. proceeding) (enforcing standing order in a divorce by contempt).

Enforcing a Possession Order by Contempt

To hold a party in contempt for violating an order for possession, the order must:

  1. Be in writing.  An alleged contemnor cannot be held in constructive contempt of court for actions taken before the court reduces its order to writing.  Ex parte Guetersloh, 935 S.W.2d 110, 111 (Tex. 1996).
  2. Be in effect when the alleged violation occurred.  A judgment of contempt is void where the order alleged to have been violated was not valid.  Ex parte Deckert, 559 S.W.2d 847, 849 (Tex. Civ. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] 1977).
  3. Be known to the Respondent. A party must have knowledge or notice of an order which one is charged with violating before a judgment of contempt is appropriate.  Ex parte Chambers, 898 S.W.2d 257, 261 (Tex. 1995).  See also Ex parte Hodge, 611 S.W.2d 468, 469 (Tex. Civ. App.—Dallas 1980, orig. proceeding) (alleged contemnor had "knowledge of the entry of the order [for child support] and the obligations imposed upon him...").
  4. Be clear and unambiguous. "In order to support a judgment of contempt, Texas law requires that the underlying decree set forth the terms of compliance in clear, specific and unambiguous terms so that the person charged with obeying the decree will readily know exactly what duties and obligations are imposed upon him."  Ex parte Chambers, 898 S.W.2d 257, 260 (Tex. 1995) (citing Ex parte MacCallum, 807 S.W.2d 729, 730 (Tex. 1991); Ex parte Hodges, 625 S.W.2d 304, 306 (1981); Ex parte Slavin, 412 S.W.2d 43, 44 (Tex. 1967)).