Divorces do not always run smoothly. After the divorce, one party might disagree with some of the judge’s decisions and then decide not to follow an order. Refusing to follow a judge’s ruling can result in an order to show cause or a motion for contempt. Whether or not you are the recipient of a motion for contempt or are considering filing one against your former spouse, it’s important to learn what it is and about the process. If you did a quick divorce then you might be able to work it out and reach an agreement, but otherwise you’ll need to file a petition for contempt.
A way of keeping order in the court and to ensure that orders are followed is to find a person in contempt. The person found in contempt of court could be punished with fines, fees and potentially jail time. There are 2 situations where a court could find someone in contempt. One is in the physical presence of the judge where the individual disrupts the court’s proceedings in some way. The second more common situation occurs when an individual has failed to follow a court’s ruling such as refusing to pay alimony or child support.
If you believe that prior court orders are not being followed, the first thing to do is to review the court’s orders regarding your case. For a divorce case, this would be the decree of divorce and any settlement agreement involved in the final decree. The following are examples of what could prompt a filing of a petition for contempt:
- Non-payment of alimony or child support.
- Failing to take a drug test if ordered to do so by the court.
- Failure to comply with visitation schedules.
- Failure to pay for medical bills if required by court to do so.
- Violating possible provisions in a court order that prohibits harassment.
- Violating provisions of a court order that prohibits cohabitation with a party who is not a relative or spouse where a minor child is staying overnight.
- Refusing to provide access to medical/dental records if required to do so.
If one party believes another party is not following the court’s orders and is in contempt, they must file a petition for contempt where the order was entered. Once the petition has been filed, the judge will usually issue an Order to Show Cause which requires the accused party to appear and show cause as to why they should not be held in contempt of court. If an Order to Show Cause is issued it’s up to the non-compliant party to demonstrate that he or she is not in contempt. Otherwise, it’s up to the filing party to prove that the other party has violated the judge’s order. A party can be held in civil or criminal contempt, but not both, so it is important to know the difference between the two. Civil contempt is to force compliance with the terms of a court order. Criminal contempt is to punish a party’s non-compliance. In any event, once the party is found by the judge to be in contempt, the court is able to impose sanctions such as:
- Ordering the party held in contempt to pay the money owed
- Ordering the party held in contempt to pay the other party’s legal fees
- Jail time
It’s a good idea to hire an attorney if you are considering filing a petition for contempt. Serious violations of a court order like harassment, abuse or interference with visitation should be brought to the court’s attention as soon as possible. The longer you wait to file a petition for contempt, the less likely the court might be in considering the urgency of the situation.