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Contempt of Court Proceedings

Dealing with Contempt in Divorce Cases

If you’ve dealt with the civil side of legal proceedings, you may be aware that court orders can get issued pretty frequently. However, you might not know too much about what can happen to someone if they choose not to do what is required of them in a court order. This brings us to today’s topic–contempt proceedings. We’ve taken the time to discuss contempt and some considerations that are worth keeping in mind should it come up in your case.  

What is Contempt?

Contempt is a party’s disobedience with an order of the court. Generally, a court’s order will require (or prohibit) a certain kind of behavior. As much as it may pain someone to comply with court orders, ignoring a court order is usually a risky plan. This disobedience or refusal to comply is coined contempt, as the behavior has an affront to the dignity of the court. The other party, or the court, may initiate contempt proceedings.

Contempt Sanctions

If one is found to be in contempt of a court order, the court has a few different options for how to deal with the contemnor (the person who engages in contempt). Here, it’s worth mentioning that contempt proceedings can be of two categories–remedial and/or punitive. With remedial contempt, the purpose is to remedy a situation. For example, if a party isn’t paying the full amount due under a child support obligation, the aggrieved spouse may seek remedial contempt to receive the amounts owed to them. So in these instances, the relief sought is often tailored in such a way as to make the situation better or remedied.

On the other hand, there is punitive contempt which, as the name describes, is to punish the contemnor for bad behavior. In these situations, the remedy sought is often constructed to serve as a deterrent for future noncompliance. Generally speaking, the punishments for punitive contempt can include penalties such as fines or perhaps even jail sentences. For example, if a party is ordered to pay for their child’s health insurance, and that party willfully refuses to carry health insurance for their child, the Court may hit the contemnor with a fine. Again, the thought here is that by creating severe penalties, the court can deter a person from disregarding the orders of the court.

Thoughts on Contempt

There is an interesting aspect about contempt in that it is not precisely civil, and not exactly criminal either. Depending on the nature of the contempt, it may be more quasi-criminal. I use the term “quasi-criminal”, as contempt doesn’t contain the same behavior of crimes (i.e. violation of a law). Instead, the violation is of a civil court order. Therefore, while punitive sanctions may be available to the judge, the proceedings tend to straddle civil and criminal law.

Importance of Complying

Complying with court orders is extremely important. Your failure to do so may expose you to contempt proceedings, which can carry significant consequences. If you feel that the other side in your case is violating the court’s orders, or if you have concerns with complying with a court’s order, it’s probably best to speak with an attorney. At Modern Family Law, we practice exclusively in family law, and we know how to deal with contempt issues. Take the time to talk with one of our attorneys today. We provide initial consultations with our team of qualified attorneys at no cost to you.

Posted February 21, 2017
by: MFL Team


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