What is contempt of court?
Contempt is the intentional disobedience of a court order. In the context of family law cases, a party will usually seek to file a Motion for Citation for Contempt of Court for indirect contempt, or a violation of a court order that occurred outside the presence of the court.
What can lead to contempt of court?
Violation of an existing court order can lead to contempt of court. During divorce proceedings, some court orders go into effect automatically, such as the mandatory temporary injunction to maintain status quo, and violation of such order may likely be contempt of court. Below are some examples of contempt of court in a family law context:
- Contempt of court for child support. The other party was ordered to pay you support during the process of divorce or after a divorce is finalized but has defaulted on payments, does not pay the full amount, or continually pays late so that you accrue penalties and late fees on your bills.
- Financial misconduct. During divorce proceedings, the other party is violating the temporary injunction by sabotaging you financially. Examples of financial misconduct include withholding your property from you, not paying maintenance or child support, not paying bills or paying them late, taking control of all money and assets, taking away your vehicle, and other similar behavior.
- Non-compliance with separation agreement. The other party is not complying with the terms of the separation agreement and is withholding money or property from you after the divorce.
- Non-compliance with parenting plan. The other party is not complying with the terms of the parenting plan or is not complying with the ordered parenting time and/ or decision making agreement. This includes refusal to allow you visitation, failure to return the child at the end of a visit, changing the child’s school without notice, failure to take care of the child’s medical needs, or making major decisions concerning the child without informing you.
- Violation of protective order. The other party is violating a protective order.
What are the sanctions for contempt of court or child support contempt?
The court may order two types of sanctions in a contempt proceeding. The first is remedial sanctions, which are intended to force the violating party to cooperate with the court order. Punitive sanctions are intended to punish the offending party for violating the court order because the conduct was so egregious that it is found to be offensive to the authority and dignity of the court that issued the order. Punitive contempt usually involves paying a fine or serving up to six months of jail time.
What can the court do if it determines that contempt has occurred in a family law case?
The court can order or award the following:
- Compliance with the court order
- Jail time
- Payment of a fine
- Attorney fees
- Make up parenting time
- Other civil remedies or penalties
What must you prove in a contempt hearing?
If you are seeking remedial sanctions then you must show the court, by a preponderance of the evidence that a court order exists, the other party had knowledge of the court order, the other party did not comply with the court order, and the other party has the present ability to comply with the court order.
If you are seeking punitive sanctions then you must show the court, beyond a reasonable doubt that a court order exists, the other party had knowledge of the court order, the other party did not comply with the court order, and the other party is willfully refusing to comply with the court order.
Is contempt appropriate in my case?
If you answer yes to the following questions, then contempt is appropriate in your case:
- Is there a court order still in effect?
- Does the other party know that the order exists?
- Have you complied with the court order yourself?
- If the other person denies violating the order, do you have proof of the violation?
- Was the violation willful or is there a reasonable explanation for the violation?
Alternatives to filing for a contempt citation
Before filing for contempt, and if it is reasonably possible and safe to do so, you can do one of the following:
- Request in writing that the other person comply with the order. When writing to the other party be professional, businesslike and polite, and write only about the specific issue at hand.
- Write a demand letter or have an attorney draft a demand letter on your behalf. The demand letter should explain the violation, clearly request compliance, be sent by regular or certified mail, and a copy should be kept for your records.
- Schedule mediation, especially if it is agreed to in your parenting plan or ordered by the court.
- If your contempt involves payment of child support, you can seek payments through the Child Support Registry in your county.
Defenses to contempt
If you have been served with a motion for contempt, you might have a valid defense. First you must determine if a valid court order was issued by a court that had proper jurisdiction to issue the order and that you had knowledge of the order. If that is the case and you have been served with a motion for contempt, then you might have one of the following defenses:
- Improper service of the motion.
- The court order has expired.
- You didn’t violate the order.
- The original order is unclear or vague, so the alleged violation is not clear, and you have tried your best to comply with the vague order.
- You’re unable to comply with the order for reasons outside your control.
- The other party has previously agreed to give you more time to comply or has allowed you not to comply, and you have evidence to prove this agreement.
It is a serious matter when one of the parties in a divorce does not follow through with the court’s orders. We are ready to both file contempt actions on our client’s behalf or to defend you if you have been accused of contempt of court.
There are two types of contempt: direct and indirect. Generally, Robinson & Henry deals with indirect contempt cases, which also take two forms: punitive and remedial. Punitive cases often result in hefty fines or even jail time. Remedial contempt cases usually result in us seeking a judge’s order to end the violation.
Failure to pay child support is a common example of the type of contempt of court cases we help our clients resolve. In these cases, proving the contempt can involve proving these four things:
- That there was a valid court order specifying the child support
- That the offending party knew of the order
- That the order was willfully violated
- That the offending party had the ability to comply with the order
These cases are fraught with uncertainty and hinge largely on the court’s interpretation of the law. Our attorneys will help you unravel the details of the contempt and present a strong case on your behalf.
Navigating the legal system to bring any of the actions described above can seem daunting. However, with a caring, knowledgeable ally on your side you can reach a satisfactory outcome. Call 303-688-0944 to discuss your needs or arrange a no cost, no obligation consultation.