What Is Contempt of Court in Family Law? 

In a family law case, what is contempt of court? A contempt of court order is an action taken by the court to enforce a legal right. But there are different types of contempt. In some cases, contempt can be constructive and in others direct. In such a case, the person is in contempt if they are deliberately ignoring the order. The other type of contempt is called non-willful disobedience. 

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Penalties for civil contempt in family law 

When a spouse refuses to comply with a court order, the consequences of a contempt finding may be harsh. Though the majority of family law contempt findings are constructive, such as if the ex does not pay child support or comply with a parenting time order, the impact on the parties can be substantial. It is said that it is easier to obtain forgiveness than permission, and courts that do not punish violators are effectively forgiving their misconduct. Nevertheless, if you feel that your spouse is intentionally defying your court order, it may be wise to consult a family law attorney to help you make a stronger case. 

In family law, a party can be charged with criminal contempt of court if they refuse to comply with a court order. Typically, the court will incarcerate someone who willfully disobeys the order. The penalty is significant and can range anywhere from a fine to a year in jail. But if a party complies with a court order, then civil contempt is not necessary. 

Constructive and direct contempt 

A violation of court orders may be considered a direct or indirect contempt of court. Direct contempt occurs within the courtroom and is usually dealt with in a summary fashion. In such cases, the offending party is notified of the disruption and allowed to respond. In some cases, the judge may impose a sanction immediately. Depending on the nature of the contempt, a person may be found liable for direct or constructive contempt. 

Direct or constructive contempt of court in family law occurs when a party fails to pay child support or violates parenting time orders. Both types can result in jail time. Often, a person can be persuaded to comply with the order to avoid facing jail time. However, some instances of contempt involve the failure to follow a protective order or court order. For example, if a parent refuses to pay child support, the court may find the party in contempt and order them to pay their attorney’s fees. 

Non-willful disobedience 

The most common form of contempt in family law is civil contempt. In this type of contempt, the defendant refuses to comply with a court order based on circumstances that are out of their control. For example, if a parent loses their job, he or she might not be able to pay child support. In this case, civil contempt may be the preferred charge because it allows a defendant to avoid jail if he or she follows the court order. 

Contempt in family law is a serious charge. Often, the court will require clear proof of the willfulness of the disobedient party. It is important to remember that a parent must have solid proof of the disobedient party’s inability to comply with a parenting plan to successfully prosecute them for contempt. Documented past communication is essential, as well. 

Community supervision 

The court can place a respondent on community supervision if they’ve been found in contempt of court. Community supervision involves community visits and may include paying the other party’s attorney fees. If the contemptuous behavior is proven, the offender may lose his or her ability to see their children. In some cases, a parent may even have their driver’s license revoked for not paying child support or spousal support. 

In most instances, contempt in family law involves a failure to pay child support or comply with a parenting time order. The court can impose a fine or jail time as punishment for contempt. In some states, a judge may suspend the jail sentence if the party is at risk of losing their job. In other states, community supervision is an alternative to jail time. But it can be difficult to see how community supervision is a viable option in your state.