Law Offices of Anne Fokstuen


Family Law Today


Contempt Of Court: What Is It, How To Avoid It And What To Do If You Have Been Charged With It

When you go to family court, at some point the judge will issue orders in your case.  You may be ordered to pay child support and/or spousal support and you may get a visitation order that governs when you or the other parent sees the children.  If your partner does not pay your court ordered support, and/or tries to keep you from seeing your children, you can accuse him or her of contempt.  If you fail to obey any of the judge’s orders, you can be charged with contempt, and run the risk of going to jail for up to five days or pay a fine up to $1000, for each violation or both.

To be found in contempt you have to know that there’s an order and what the order says.  If you or your lawyer were in court, the judge will conclude that you knew about the order.  You must also be able to comply with the order.  The judge has to find that you willfully failed to comply with the court order, to be held in contempt.  If your teenager does not want to visit the other parent, and refuses to go, you can’t be held in contempt for not complying with the visitation order.

If your ex has failed to obey court orders in your case, you can hire a lawyer and bring an action for contempt.  If you are accused of contempt you should hire a lawyer to defend yourself, because if you are found in contempt you can go to jail, be required to do community service and pay fines. Each time you fail to pay support, and each time you do not let the other parent see the child, are separate counts of contempt.  Therefore, you can easily end up being charged with multiple counts of contempt.  The court will give you time to hire a lawyer, prepare your case and defend yourself.

The person who accuses the other person of contempt has to provide evidence that the contempt happened at a court trial.  During the trial, the judge will listen to the evidence, which is usually testimony from the person who did not receive support or was unable to see the children, or someone who has knowledge that the contempt happened.  If your former spouse is not complying with court orders, you need to keep a record of each violation.  If you are afraid you might be charged with contempt, you need to keep records showing that you complied with the court order to the best of your abilities.  If you are charged with contempt, you have the right to testify and present your own evidence about why you should not be held in contempt.

The court can find that you were not in contempt, if you did not willfully violate a court order.  If the court finds you guilty of contempt, you can be ordered to do up to 120 hours of community service, spend up to 120 hours in jail and pay a fine of up to $1,000 for each count of contempt. The court can also order you to pay your former spouse’s attorney’s fees.

Anne Fokstuen