Common questions about Contempt actions

Everyone has heard of being in “contempt of court” but not many people really know what it entails. The following are the most common questions we have encountered on the subject:

  • What does Contempt mean in a legal sense? It means you have willfully violated a court order.
  • Is there a defense for Contempt of Court? You can argue that you didn’t violate the order or that it was not willfully done.
  • What is a common example from Family Law cases? Most often it is a violation of an order to pay child support or alimony or denial of visitation rights.
  • What is the punishment for Contempt? You are normally ordered to comply or go to jail. Sometimes the judge will put you in jail immediately until you decide to cooperate. Another common penalty is for the offender to be fined or be ordered to pay the other party’s attorney fees.
  • Is Contempt the only way that court orders are enforced? No, if you owe money then the court can have your wages, bank accounts, and assets garnished as well.
  • Do Contempt cases take a long time? Since they are fairly straightforward, they normally take less time than a divorce or other family law case.
  • What will happen to me if I am falsely accused? If you have been falsely accused and found to not be in contempt, then the court may order the opposing party to pay your legal fees.
  • Is there a way to prevent me from being falsely accused? Keep a receipt of everything. Write separate checks for each purpose; for instance, do not lump the alimony and child support payments into the same check. Having a witness present when you exchange custody is a good idea.
  • Is it worthwhile to file for Contempt? It depends on your situation. If you will get enough out of the contempt charges to pay your legal expenses then it is definitely worth the time and trouble.
  • Do I need a lawyer if I am accused of Contempt? Anytime you stand a chance of being sent to jail, it is a good idea to have a lawyer on your side. At least talk with an experienced attorney to see how much potential trouble you are in.
  • Will the judge who issued the original order also deal with my Contempt charge? Usually yes, but there are a few exceptions. For instance, if either party has moved to a different county then a different judge may handle it.