What is Contempt of Court in Family Law? 

In order to find someone in contempt of court, you must have proof of a willful disregard of the order. This means that the contemnor was aware of the order, had the ability to follow it, and had no mitigating circumstances. In some cases, however, people may not be aware of the order because of circumstances outside of their control. Job loss is one example of non-willful contempt. An attorney may argue that the order was too vague and they are not aware of the circumstances at hand.

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Consequences of civil contempt 

In the family law realm, the most common consequences of civil contempt are those relating to parenting time and child support. While most of the time, these findings are constructive, or intended to make the offender’s behavior more difficult or expensive to repeat, the consequences can still have significant impact on both parties. A common saying is “it’s easier to get permission than permission,” and it’s true that when the courts don’t punish the violators, they are effectively forgiving their behavior. Oftentimes, parties to a divorce are not willing to follow court orders or pay child support, and this is a great opportunity to hold them in contempt of court. 

When a court finds someone in civil contempt, the judge will impose a penalty, which can include fines and jail time. The judge will usually give the offender an opportunity to make amends, such as paying back support or compensatory visitation, as ordered by the court. A contempt action is intended to encourage compliance. However, if the offender does not comply with the order, the judge may take this as a grounds for modifying the custody or visitation order. 

Alternatives to civil contempt 

Alternatives to civil contempt of court in the family law realm are not very far off. A judge will order a non-paying spouse to pay child support even if he or she is financially unable to do so. Generally, the defendant must pay the support in order to avoid jail time. However, in some cases, the defendant can demonstrate that he or she is incapable of paying and avoid jail time. 

One of the most important differences between civil contempt and criminal contempt proceedings is that civil contempts are generally purgeable, meaning that sanctions can be lifted if the contemnor later comes into compliance. Coercive civil contempts, on the other hand, are intended to make a person comply with a court order in the future, rather than punishing past non-compliance. But despite their benefits, civil contempt proceedings can be stressful and costly. This is why it is crucial to seek alternative methods of resolving family disputes. 

Alternatives to civil contempt in family law 

If a party refuses to pay child support, for example, civil contempt can be a viable option. Depending on the circumstances, contempt can also be applied to a parent who has failed to make child support payments. This situation is particularly troubling if the ex is unable to pay the support despite being ordered by the court to do so. There are other alternatives to civil contempt in family law, including mediation. 

If a parent is repeatedly defying the orders of the court, criminal contempt can also be used. However, the primary purpose of criminal contempt is to punish the violator and uphold the court’s authority. Criminal contempt carries with it severe penalties, and the sentences are often punitive. Moreover, fines paid to the court are also a punitive measure. However, a parent facing a criminal contempt case must prove the contempt with a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt.