Family Court

Contempt Of Court

Many times people who enter into agreements in the Family Court resolving divorce and custody issues don’t take their agreement seriously. This can be a serious mistake.

When resolving a dispute in our legal system, people almost always put their agreement in writing. When these writings are clear and unambiguous, their terms will be enforced by the court. Violations of a court order are punished by either a $1,500 fine, 300 hours of community service, 1 year in jail, or any combination of all 3.

A court must find that a person has clearly violated the unambiguous terms of an order. An ambiguous term in an order is one that is capable of more than one interpretation. Failure to pay child support or alimony will almost always be unambiguous, whereas other provisions, such as marketing the sale of the marital home, may not be so clear.

Allegations of contempt are raised by way of a Rule to Show Cause. This is a formal pleading that sets forth the allegations and demands that the court punish the adverse party for violating the terms of the order. A hearing is then scheduled where a Judge (not a jury) must find by clear and convincing evidence that a person willfully (intentionally) violated a court order.

Proof of a violation of a court order is made through testimony and the submission of relevant documents. Rules of Evidence and Procedure apply and these hearing can take a day or longer. They are time consuming and expensive but sometimes the only way to compel a person to take an order seriously.

While jail time is usually reserved for the most egregious violations, most courts will simply make a finding of contempt, order jail time, and then suspend the jail time upon payment of the other parties legal fees and costs.



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