Any time an individual violates a court order they risk being held in contempt. Contempt of court consequences can include both civil and criminal penalties depending on the infraction, but in some cases can be quite severe.
A motion for contempt is a fairly common occurrence in divorce proceedings. Before discussing contempt of court consequences, it is important to first understand the definition of contempt.
Definition Of Contempt
To be in contempt of court, it must be proven that a person willfully or intentionally violated their court order. The accuser must prove that the accused party:
- Knew about the order,
- Knowingly violated the conditions despite having the ability to comply, and
- Lacks any reasonable excuse for the violation
The burden of proof lies with the accuser so compiling evidence prior to filing for a motion for contempt is crucial.The entire point of civil contempt was originally to coerce compliance rather than punish with confinement. Click To Tweet
Contempt Of Court Consequences
Depending on the infraction, contempt of court consequences can include fines, compensatory visitation, a modification to the custody arrangement, and in some instances even jail time.
In most cases, if someone is held in contempt, the court will first give them the opportunity to make amends for the violation. This could include repaying owed child support or allowing the opposing party to have additional parenting time for failing to comply with a visitation schedule. If those make-up requirements are met, the court is unlikely to enforce any additional contempt of court punishment since the entire objective of a contempt action is to seek compliance.
If an issue continues, such as repeatedly withholding visitation, a court can modify the custody order. Usually, a court will only modify a custody arrangement if the contempt action is included with a motion to modify.
Contempt of court punishment can include jail time, but that is generally rare. The entire point of civil contempt was originally to coerce compliance rather than punish with confinement. More times than not, the possibility of jail time is enough to convince the offending party to comply with the order so additional punishment is not necessary.
Contempt of court consequences can include additional damages in some states as courts will issue sanctions to help cover the losses incurred from the contempt action.
Filing For Contempt
When a person files for contempt, a new case is opened and the accused party will need to be properly served.
Evidence must then be presented to the court showing that the contempt action took place and the violation was intentional.
Prior to filing for contempt, it is a wise choice to send your ex a letter notifying of your intent. The court will likely view this as an act of good faith showing that you are sincerely interested in coercing compliance rather than just trying to stick it to your ex. In your letter, make sure to clearly explain how they can remedy the situation before going to court. If they missed child support payments, provide them with a certain number of days to repay you before you seek enforcement from the court.
Once all other efforts to coerce compliance are exhausted, you need to file a motion of contempt with the same court that issued the order being violated. The court will issue a hearing date where both sides present their case and a judge will decide whether contempt of court occurred and if so what the contempt of court consequences should be.
If you are concerned about contempt of court consequences or if you think your ex should be held in contempt, you should contact a family law attorney as soon as possible to go over the definition of contempt and review your options.