Punishments for Contempt of Court in Family Court
When your ex does not comply with your divorce decree or custody order, they could be held in contempt of court.
Contempt of court, also simply called contempt, is a severe penalty for disobeying a court order or interfering with the court process. The court could charge a parent with contempt for any behavior they see as unruly. This includes interrupting the judge in court and breaking a custody agreement.
The punishments for contempt of court vary depending on what the person has done and whether there's proof they intentionally ignored the order.
To pursue a contempt charge against your ex, you must ask the court to enforce the order. Contempt cases are often contentious and costly since you'll likely have to hire a lawyer. Before you go to court, it's important to know the types of contempt and how you can prove your ex has committed it.
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Types of contempt
There are two types of contempt: criminal and civil.
Criminal contempt serves to uphold the court's authority and punish the contemnor (person who's guilty of contempt) so they don't do it again. A person facing these charges has the right to a trial where they can call witnesses.
An example of criminal contempt is violating a domestic violence protective order. When this happens, the contemnor could face jail time, and the court could charge them with a misdemeanor or a felony.
Civil contempt serves to get the person who's disobeying the order to follow it. The contemnor can avoid sanctions for this type of contempt if they begin following the order.
Generally, a person cannot be held in civil and criminal contempt for the same thing.
Contempt of court: Child custody penalties
Disobedience of a custody order or agreement could result in civil contempt charges.
Common violations of a child custody order include:
- Not allowing a parent to exercise their visitation rights
- Failing to return the child to the other parent at the end of visits
- Taking the child out of state without permission
If found in contempt for violating a custody order, a parent could face punishments like:
- Supervised visitation
- Other changes to the parenting plan, such as reduced parenting time
You must have a court order for contempt to occur. If there is no custody order or the order has ended, there can be no contempt proceedings.
Proving contempt of parenting plan
The court requires proof that the person "willfully disobeyed" the order. This means they were aware of the terms of the parenting plan and had the ability to follow it yet neglected to do so.
The court might not charge the person with contempt if they show they weren't aware of the parenting plan or were unable to follow it (non-willful disobedience).
Parents in contempt cases should have solid proof like records of communication and parenting time.
Communicating through a parenting app can help you show instances of the parent disregarding the order. If you frequently remind the parent of the time they're supposed to drop off the child, yet they continue to drop the child off late without good reason, that's proof they're choosing to ignore the order.
Contempt of court: Child support penalties
Disobeying a child support order could result in civil or criminal contempt charges.
Possible penalties for not paying child support (or spousal support) include:
- Wage garnishment
- Jail time
For the court to charge a parent with contempt, there needs to be proof the parent had the ability to pay child support, yet intentionally did not pay. The court may still allow you to pursue contempt charges if the child support order has ended.
If the parent was unable to pay due to loss of employment, the court may see that as a circumstance beyond their control and not charge contempt. However, the court could still charge contempt on the grounds that the person should have told the court they couldn't pay.
Avoiding contempt of court
To avoid a contempt charge, follow the rules of court procedure and your court order.
A parent's reasons for not following a court order are not always malicious. Sometimes, the order is too vague or difficult to understand. Always ask the court or your lawyer to clarify anything that's confusing.
If you pay support, inform the court immediately when you are having trouble making payments. It could save you from owing more money and a contempt charge that could potentially land you in jail.
Staying in compliance with court orders
When a court issues orders, it's essential you follow them. But they can be tough to decipher, especially orders for parenting time. When exactly does "Week 2" begin this month? Which day is considered the middle of winter break?
Take advantage of our technology, and rest assured that you're interpreting the court's orders correctly.