If you are seeking enforcement of a court order, our attorneys can assist you. In divorce, civil contempt is most often a willful violation of a court order. Civil Contempt can result in both civil and criminal penalties. When a court issues an order during or after a divorce, such as a visitation or support order, it becomes legally binding. This means you must abide by the conditions laid out in the order, and, if you willfully disobey, you can be subject to court penalties. This is known as “being held in contempt.”
Contempt in most divorce cases usually involves intentionally disobeying court orders — both temporary and those found in the final decree.
What constitutes contempt?
Contempt occurs when one party knowingly fails to comply with a court’s order without just cause or excuse. If you are in a situation where the other party fails to pay child support or spousal support, or fails to follow court order regarding custody or visitation, and experienced family law attorney can help. By filing for “Rule to Show Cause”, we can get the matter before a judge that can enforce to order through threat of jail time, fines or other civil penalties including your attorney’s fees.
In order to be found in contempt, it must be proven that the accused party violated the order at issue intentionally or willfully. The factors that must be proven in order to establish a willful or intentional violation of a court order are as follows:
1. The person was aware of the obligation created by the order;
2. The person was able to comply with the order, but failed to do so, either by act or omission; and
3. The person does not have an legally acceptable excuse for the violation.
The burden of proof lies on the person alleging violation of a court order. Therefore, it is imperative that you have evidence to back up your claims of contempt before seeking court involvement. You should be prepared for the opposing party to come up with excuses why they were unable to comply with the order, and have sufficient evidence to successfully refute those claims. Additionally, it is good practice to send a “warning letter” to the offending party to allow them to rectify their behavior, and become compliant with the order, before filing for contempt. This is done to show good faith, and in an effort to resolve the matter before proceeding with litigation. If such correspondence is sent, and the person does not come into compliance with the court order, it is then appropriate to file with the court to have the offending party held in contempt.
Consequences of Contempt
Committing contempt can include both civil and criminal penalties. These can include fines, paying the other party’s attorney fees, or even a jail sentence. If the court determines that contempt was committed, it will usually give the offending party an opportunity to make up for the violation. In family law cases, courts can also fashion unique remedies to fit each particular situation. For example, if withholding visitation is a continuing problem, the court has the power to award extra time with the children, or even modify the custody arrangement. This usually requires the contempt charge to be filed alongside a motion to modify. While the option exists for a court to issue jail time, it is generally reserved for only the worst offenders. In most cases, the mere threat of jail time is enough to achieve compliance. However, in some cases, offenders do not comply easily, and jail time is used in cases of habitual violations of a court order, or for protracted periods of failure to comply.
Contact an Attorney
If the other party is willfully breaking an order and showing no signs of compliance, filing a motion of contempt is your best option to ensure that a court order is enforced . It is possible to represent yourself in a contempt action. However, it is beneficial to retain an experienced attorney to represent you to assure a good outcome. If you believe your spouse is willfully violating a court order, don’t wait to speak with an attorney. If you wait too long to file an action, it is possible the court can claim you acquiesced to their conduct and may dismiss your charge. Please contact us to schedule a consultation with an attorney to discuss your case.