Contempt of Court in Family Law

Court orders that determine parenting arrangements after a divorce are serious documents. They are made to maintain stability for children after parents split and to prevent unrest and chaos for both parties. When a person intentionally disobeys or disrespects a court of order, contempt of court arises.

Contempt of court has two different types: criminal and civil. Criminal contempt generally addresses an individual’s conduct that has been defiant or disrespectful towards the court of law. Civil contempt, on the other hand, generally concerns situations where a person is simply not following a court order. 

There are also two types of civil contempt: coercive and compensatory. The power of coercive civil contempt forces a violator to obey again a court order. Compensatory civil contempt is dealt with when a parent attempts to have their ex-spouse adhere to the specifics of their parenting plan, such as compensating their child even after separation. 

How can I apply for contempt of court?

In the Family Court, the finding of contempt is a way for court officials to enforce child support, spousal support, custody, and visitation orders that a party has violated. A party can apply for contempt of court orders when they want to seek an order from the court imposing a punishment on a person who failed to obey an agreement. Punishment may include fines or imprisonment. The court may also make an order that:

  • ensures the resumption of the arrangements set out in an earlier order
  • compensates a person for lost contact time
  • puts a person on notice that if the person does not comply with an order, he/she will be punished accordingly

Contempt of court should only be alleged if the conduct complained of is serious enough to warrant such a serious charge, involving flagrancy and total disobedience of the person’s obligations under a legal agreement. Before filing an application, you should consider the result you want to achieve. It is best to always seek legal advice before filing an application for contempt of court. 

When is a person considered to be “in contempt” of a court order?

For contempt of court to exist, first, there must be a court order in effect. Expired court orders cannot be enforced anymore to contempt proceedings. But child support matters may be an exemption to this rule. You may be able to enforce a child support order after your child has become an adult through contempt proceedings. Some common examples of being “in contempt” include:

  • violating a restraining order
  • not paying child support or spousal support
  • refusing to allow the other parent’s visitation according to the parenting plan

Either a person’s action or inaction can lead to him/her being in contempt. Consult a family law professional to know if you are on the right track and to keep you guided on the different contempt proceedings. 

How to prove contempt in Family Court?

Being involved in contempt proceedings is a serious case, and the sanctions imposed can be severe. The court will require clear and concrete evidence based on four elements:

  • a valid and written court order signed by the judge that is in effect
  • proof that the other person is knowledgeable about the court order
  • validation that the other party had an ability to comply with the order
  • proof that the other person willfully failed to comply with the order

Keeping the documents of past communication is vital when you decide to begin contempt proceedings. This is to be safe and secure from any document fabrication or manipulation. 

What happens at a contempt hearing?

The main goal of contempt of court in family law is to get the other individual to follow the court order in the future. Remedies or punishments for contempt of court can vary depending on the nature of the violation. Sanctions may include:

  • wage garnishment
  • court-ordered supervised visitation
  • fines
  • imprisonment
  • community service


Contempt proceedings and sanctions can be expensive and traumatic. It’s paramount that parents do everything in their power to avoid this kind of situation entirely. Contempt of court is a great example of how important it is to behave honestly and respectfully towards the Family Law. You may be upset about having to go through a court case but things could get worse if you don’t cooperate and comply with court orders.

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