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Confronting Noncompliance: Contempt of Court in Family Law Cases

Updated: Jul 12, 2023

Author: Larry S. Lofgren, Family Law Attorney

A lot of time and effort goes into obtaining court orders in family law cases. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that people will follow orders. What happens when someone does not follow a court order?

Most orders do not allow a party in a family law case to decide for themselves that a violation has occurred, allowing them to take appropriate action without court approval. Some orders do, but they must clearly state the right to take action outside of court and they are relatively rare. If the other party is not obeying the order, you may have to file a Motion for Contempt.

The procedure for filing a contempt motion.

The process is not as easy as you might expect. Before you take any action in court, it is a good idea to notify the other party to ask them to comply with the order before taking legal action so you can show the judge that you are not being petty, and that you tried to resolve it before going to court.

Once you are ready to file a Motion for Contempt, you must go through two steps. The first step is to go to court and ask for a show cause order. To get this order, you only have to convince a judge that what you are alleging is a violation of the order. In some counties, this can be done at an ex parte hearing (meaning you do not have to schedule a hearing in advance and the other party may or may not be there). In some counties, you have to schedule a show cause hearing. If the show cause order is granted, then the second step is to schedule a hearing where both sides can fully a You must personally serve the other party with the show cause order.

To win a contempt motion, you have to prove that the violation occurred. Even if you can do this, the other party may win the motion if they can prove that it was impossible for them to follow the order. They can also argue that the order was invalid, they never received it, or the order is too confusing to follow or is open to more than one interpretation.

What can I hope for at the hearing?

At the hearing, if the court agrees that the other party violated the order, it can order them to pay up to $2,000 per day for each day the contempt continues, pay for losses they suffered because of the contempt, pay your costs for having to bring the motion or even impose jail time to force compliance with the order. If the other party is found in contempt of a parenting plan for a second time in three years, it becomes easier to change the entire parenting plan. Other remedies for a violation of the parenting plan include monetary sanctions and make-up time with the children.

A contempt of court hearing is not as easy as it may seem.

One should carefully consider whether there are other ways of ensuring compliance from the other party. You should make an effort to get the other party to voluntarily comply with the order before going to court. Some violations of orders are simply not worth the time and expense. If you file too many contempt motions the court might think you are too aggressive, especially if the violation is relatively minor. However, there are many instances when a contempt motion is the only way to get the other party to take court orders seriously.

To learn more about noncompliance, contact us today at View Ridge Family Law & Estate Planning at (206) 502-4748.

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