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.

Visualize your schedule. Get a written parenting plan. Calculate your parenting time.

Make My Parenting Plan Now

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:

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.

Tracking parenting time can show which parent is spending significantly more or less time with the kids than what the court-ordered visitation schedule states.

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:

  • Fines
  • 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're still struggling, try to negotiate an agreement with the other parent. Or consider asking the court to modify your order.

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?

Use Custody X Change to transform your orders into a calendar you can edit and print, so you'll never have to wonder whether you're staying in compliance.

Take advantage of our technology, and rest assured that you're interpreting the court's orders correctly.

Visualize your schedule. Get a written parenting plan. Calculate your parenting time.

Make My Parenting Plan Now

Explore examples of common schedules

Explore common schedules

Join the 60,000+ other parents who have used our co-parenting tools

Organize your evidence

Track your expenses, journal what happens, and record actual time. Print organized, professional documents.

Co-parent civilly

Our parent-to-parent messaging system, which detects hostile language, lets you collaborate without the drama.

Get an accurate child support order

Child support is based on parenting time or overnights in most jurisdictions. Calculate time instead of estimating.

Succeed by negotiating

Explore options together with visual calendars and detailed parenting plans. Present alternatives and reach agreement.

Never forget an exchange or activity

Get push notifications and email reminders, sync with other calendar apps and share with the other parent.

Save up to $50,000 by avoiding court

Write your parenting agreement without lawyers. Our templates walk you through each step.

Make My Plan



Long distance schedules

Third party schedules


Summer break

Parenting provisions


How to make a schedule

Factors to consider

Parenting plans:

Making a parenting plan

Changing your plan

Interstate, long distance

Temporary plans

Guides by location:

Parenting plans

Scheduling guidelines

Child support calculators

Age guidelines:

Birth to 18 months

18 months to 3 years

3 to 5 years

5 to 13 years

13 to 18 years


Joint physical custody

Sole physical custody

Joint legal custody

Sole legal custody

Product features:

Software overview

Printable calendars

Parenting plan templates

Journal what happens

Expense sharing

Parenting time tracking

Calculate time & overnights

Ways to use:

Succeed by negotiating

Prepare for mediation

Get ready for court


Bring calm to co‑parenting. Agree on a schedule and plan. Be prepared with everything documented.

Make My Parenting Plan Now

No thanks, I don't need a parenting plan