What is Contempt of Court – Consequences you may face if you blatantly violate a court order?

We all must have seen those dramatic events in a movie where a judge hauls an offender to jail during a court trial. But in reality, people don’t really think about contempt of court.

Contempt of court happens when someone disobeys a court order by not fulfilling the legal obligations.

The definition of contempt of court in all states is not comparatively different from each other. You will be convicted for contempt of court if you don’t comply with the court requirements and directions. Additionally, when a person deliberately disrespects the court and intentionally acts inappropriately, then also he would be convicted for contempt of court.

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The article translates everything that you must know about contempt of court. Check out the complete details of the article and enlighten yourself with the concepts.

Understanding Contempt of Court

Under the US code Title 18, the contempt of court consists of four essential elements:

  • Misbehavior
  • Attempts that obstruct the court administration
  • Attempts that shows criminal intent
  • Attempts that have been done near or inside the court

The contempt of court is further classified into another two categories, civil vs criminal and direct vs indirect. As the criminal contempt of court is based on the usual criminal negligence or a regular criminal act. These kinds of content mostly contain criminal charges and penalties.

For instance, if an offender yells at the judge for not listening or not responding to his statements.

Civil contempt of court defined the charges that are avoidable to future legal obedience.

On the other hand, direct contempt usually happens inside and in the presence of the court while indirect relates to the other condition.

There can be intricate and wide altitudes for the court to determine the contempt of court offenses according to the defined elements and the categories. Therefore, the penalties and possible consequences can vary according to intent and contempt.

Contempt of Court in Family Law

As discussed, contempt of court is disobedience of a court order. In family law, contempt of court is a violation of spousal or child support, domestic violence orders, and child custody or visitation order. This contempt of courts in family law may contain but are not limited to:

  • Violation of a court restraining order
  • Refuse to pay the custodial or spousal support
  • Applying co-parent visitation limitation when the court allows
  • Refuse to return the child after the visitation period.

People may think that contempt of court is disobeying or acting against the court order. It is also important to note that inaction to a certain order will also fall under contempt of court.

Proving a Contempt of Court

Once you are certain that the contempt of court has been committed, you may need the following to prove it;

  • The order of a court or a valid verdict signed by the jurisdiction judge
  • Evidence that the offender violated the court order intentionally.
  • Evidence of getting failed to comply with the court order.
  • Evidence that the offender had the ability to comply with the court requirements but failed in the given time period.

What are the Consequences of Contempt of Court?

The contempt of court punishment or consequences varies according to the court and the violation of the court order. The possible consequences of violating DVPO – domestic violence protective order or the restraining order are harsh and dreadful.

In most states, violating an official DVPO is considered a class 1 misdemeanor. Depending on the type of the violation and circumstances in class 1 misdemeanor, a person can be convicted for a harsh penalty along with a jail time of more than 100 days.

If an individual has a previous criminal history, then the contempt of court consequences can be really tough. After first, if an offender violates the DVPO more than once, the offense may be convicted according to the codes of Class H misdemeanor. Through Class H misdemeanor, the felon will be charged with the offense punishable by 2 to 4 years behind the bars.

On the flip side, if the violations are committed under family law, which includes failing to provide spousal support and child custody, then the sentencing can lead up to penalty and jail time both under the civil contempt of court.

Through the civil contempt of court, a court intends an individual to obey the court requirements at the given time. Although, this may not be the first time that the court will take action. Practically, it is on the court’s decree if the court wants to imprison the offender until he or she complies with the requirement – it can.

This means the court punishes contempt of court in family court violation just to force an individual to act upon the court order not to punish. Sometimes, civil contempt of court offenses would not be found in the contempt of a criminal offense.

Enforcing Court Orders through Civil Contempt of Court

The judges at the trials must determine that the court order is legal and valid and make sure that the individual with the order has the capability to do so. The individual with the contempt should willfully need to comply with the court order, the inability cannot hold you liable for the contempt of court offense. However, you may need to prove – how and why you became incapable or lost the ability to comply with the court order.

For instance, if you are bound to pay the child support and due to an accident you become unable to go to work so didn’t earn – makes you unable to pay the child support. In order to protect yourself from the offense of child support civil contempt of court, you may need to prove your injury.

Consequences of Breaking Divorce decree

When a couple decides to break the chain, they finalize a document that details the settlements and clauses that the parties agree upon. This document is considered a divorce settlement agreement, a divorce decree, or a dissolution decree.

But many times, most couples do not comply with the said requirements either with child custody, spousal support, or matters about property division. By disobeying the court order, either party can face severe repercussions eventually.

Disobedience of a Divorce decree

Several ways are there where a person can disobey a divorce decree which includes:

Property Division Issue

When couples are divorced, the debts and properties are not that simple to be distributed easily. Your mutual assets may need to be sold or the property that may need to be distributed among both but the divorce decree may compel you to wind up your divorce without the sum of the attainment of the assets.

Child Visitation and Custody Issues

Another issue that may arise while having a divorce is the visitation and custody issues that diminish and eliminate the quality time with your children. Your spouse may also restrict your visitation to meet your own children in serious scenarios. It is also problematic and disruptive to face negligence due to the forgetfulness of visitation issues at agreed-upon times.

Other than these, there can be several issues in complying with the divorce decree. If you want to drag your spouse for not adhering to the divorce decree, then you may need to prove his or her negligence.

Your family law attorney will probably advise you to collect evidence of the behavior and negligence of your spouse. Gather emails, messages, voicemails, and account statements that may be useful to prove in the family court that your spouse refused to adhere to the court order.

Every piece of evidence can prove what your spouse refused to follow. Once your case is reviewed in the family court by the judge, he or she will determine how to get along with your case to best enforce the judgment.

The penalization for your ex-spouse can be done in the following ways:

  • Freeze accounts
  • Fines
  • Penalties
  • Liens on house/property/business
  • Withholding tax refunds
  • Income garnishments

Most states allow the spouses to edit and modify their divorce decrees and parenting plans. In severe conditions, your spouse would get a contempt of court charges just by not following the court order.

How to avoid Contempt of Court Charges?

In order to avoid the contempt of court charges, follow the specified rules of court of procedures:

A reason that a parent may not be able to comply with the requirement may require further clarification as the order is difficult to comprehend or is too vague. Consult an attorney if you have difficulty understanding the order.

On the other hand, if the order is negotiable, instead of struggling, contact the other spouse or ask the court to grant permission to modify it.

If the agreement compels you to pay the child or spouse support, then on facing the difficulties, inform the court immediately without delaying that your spouse raises the concern in the court that you are failing to adhere to the divorce decree and the court would apply a civil contempt of court on you. Remember, the contempt of court charges may eventually end up putting you behind the bars.

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