Understanding Contempt of Court in Family Law Cases

Navigating a divorce, child custody dispute, child support mediation, adoption claim or another family legal matter can be a truly stressful and challenging experience. Unlike other areas of law, family law is unique in that it is instantly personal not just for an individual but for an entire family. Few family legal disputes impact only two or three people as a case evolves. As a result, tensions surrounding family legal disputes can run uncharacteristically high. And when tensions run high, rash decisions can be made in an instant.

For better and for worse, some rash decisions made during divorce proceedings and other family law processes can lead to a frustrating consequence commonly known as “contempt of court.” Contempt charges generally occur when individuals involved in a case fail to follow orders dictated by the presiding judge. Essentially, any explicit court instructions that are not followed may result in a contempt charge. These orders can be as varied, for example, they may require an individual to hand over certain documentation, pay a specified amount of child support or obey an order of protection.

Criminal vs. Civil Contempt of Court Process

Most family legal disputes involving contempt charges are affected by civil contempt, not criminal contempt. Unless an infraction meets certain criteria, including severity and/or repeat behavior, criminal contempt charges do not tend to be brought in divorce, child custody and child support cases.

When civil contempt charges are handed down by a judge, the offender will generally be warned to follow directions and will be given the opportunity to alter his or her behavior before greater consequences are imposed. If this warning is not heeded, the offender will become subject to an explicit court order and will likely be held liable to pay a fine and/or associated attorney’s fees for the opposing party generated as a result of the offense. In some instances, penalties may be more significant or the process may be altered somewhat.

Contempt in Family Law Matters

There are a few common scenarios in which an individual involved in a divorce or other family legal proceeding is held in contempt of court. First, parents may behave in ways that violate temporary or permanent child custody orders. When children are involved in a divorce, parents can indulge rash impulses in order to protect their kids. Although this kind of behavior is understandable, it is better to speak with an attorney about modifying existing orders instead of violating them as such violations may impact a judge’s inclinations to respect a parent’s preferences in the future.

Second, some individuals either intentionally or unintentionally violate financial orders or restraining orders. It is critically important to pay close attention to the details of these instructions as one false move can lead to a contempt charge.

Legal Assistance Is Available

If you have questions about divorce, other family legal challenges or contempt of court, please do not hesitate to reach out to an experienced attorney. Consultations are usually confidential, so there is little reason to be self-conscious about making your questions and/or concerns are known. Once a divorce lawyer in Rockville, MD, like from the Law Office of Daniel Wright, better understands your unique situation, he or she will be able to advise you of your legal options accordingly.