Contempt Complaints And How They Affect Your Divorce
What happens when a spouse violates a court order and when is it appropriate to ask the court to hold your spouse in contempt? Common scenarios seen in divorce cases that trigger contempt actions can include failure to pay child support, not allowing the other parent parenting time, etc.
To be held in contempt means to have disobeyed a judge’s order. Sometimes, a parent will stop paying court-ordered child support payments or they may not allow the other parent court-ordered visitation time with the children.
Contempt Can Occur For Many Reasons
Most contempt complaints occur in civil cases. The purpose is to force the non-complying party into obeying a judge’s order. However, in some cases, a party may be held in criminal contempt. The standard for civil contempt is that it is more likely than not that the person clearly and undoubtedly disobeyed a clear and unequivocal command.
Contempt actions can be brought for several reasons including:
- Enforcing judgments
- Enforcing foreign decrees
- Alimony payments
- Child support
When one party brings a contempt action against the other for any violation of a judge’s order, the other party will have the opportunity to present a defense explaining to the family law court why they are not in violation of a judge’s order. There are two types of defenses – general defenses and substantive defenses. General defenses can include:
- Failure to join a necessary party
- Failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted
- Lack of jurisdiction
Substantive defenses are defenses that do not rely upon a technicality. These can include:
- Inability to pay a judgment due to unemployment, reduced income, or illness
- The violation was not contemptuous, i.e., the violating party did not have a reasonable alternative given the circumstances at the time the violation occurred
- It was impossible to comply with the order
If an order from a court is ambiguous as to its terms, a party cannot be held in contempt. It should be clear from the language of the order what each parties’ responsibilities are.
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