Avoiding Contempt of Court in Divorce Case

By Lisa M. Schaffer, Esq. on August 22, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Even for the most amicable of uncouplings, divorce court stinks. A judge will be telling you what you must do, and what you must never do, in such a detailed way that it may feel you are back in kindergarten. Though it may be taxing, do all that you can to follow these orders to avoid a contempt of court charge. This can be damaging for a variety of reason, and will only serve to make your situation worse.

What Is Contempt of Court

Contempt of court is a fancy way of saying that you've disobeyed the court's orders, whether it be to do something (like pay child support or turn over documents), or not do something (perhaps there is a restraining order against you interacting with your ex's new spouse).

There are two kinds of contempt -- civil and criminal. Civil is more common in divorce cases. A judge will inform you that you are not doing what you are supposed to do, and give you time to fix it. If you don't, the judge will either make a court order compelling you to do it, and/or award attorney fees and a fine. Note that many states allow for greater penalties if you are a repeat contempt offender.

Common Contempt Issues in Divorce Cases

Now that you know what contempt is, you should also know how, or perhaps, what to avoid. These are the three most common areas in which people find themselves in contempt of court in divorce cases:

1. Custody

Each person involved in a custody arrangement must abide by all custody orders. Any interference with this, even if by a grandparent or someone outside the immediate family, may lead to contempt of court, and by the way, a crime in its own right in several states which can damage your visitation or custodial rights. As was seen in the Angelina Jolie/Brad Pitt custody hearings, judges view a parent's interference with a child's relationship with the other parent very seriously.

2. Financial

If a judge has ordered you to turn over any real estate or personal property, or bank accounts, failure to do so may also constitute contempt. Another form of financial contempt is failing to pay child support or spousal alimony.

3. Restraint

Unfortunately, some divorce cases include restraining or protective orders. Judges do not issue these lightly, and if there is one in affect in your divorce, please take it seriously. Violating it may also constitute contempt, and like custody contempt violations, may be its own crime.

Best advice -- don't be in contempt of court. If you have a disagreement with terms in your divorce case, or if you are experiencing a financial hardship and can't meet your obligations, notify the court and your divorce lawyer, and use the legal system to make changes. Taking the law into your own hands could make matters worse.

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