Last week I discussed enforcements and how they are used to make the other party fall in line. However, while filing an enforcement action is all well and good, it’s only part of your available relief. Because what good is simply ordering someone to comply when they have already refused to do so previously? Requesting the Court to find the other party in contempt gives your enforcement the extra weight needed to make them think twice before disobeying again.
As mentioned last week, contempt of a court order occurs when a party violates or directly disobeys an order of the court. In the field of family law these violations are usually failure to pay child support and/or withholding visitation. To get an order for contempt granted you must, like everything else, prove that certain elements were met. These elements are that the other party had knowledge of the order, had the ability to comply with the order, and that despite having the ability to comply they didn’t.
I always tell my clients that want to seek an enforcement with the request for contempt to make sure they have kept a record of the other parties violations. Because if you want the other party to be found in contempt you will need to be specific when showing their violations. That includes what order was violated, how they violated the order, where the order was violated, and when (both time and date) the order was violated. If you don’t have this specific proof, it is possible that the judge will not hold the other side in contempt.
There are two different types of contempt: civil and criminal. However, the difference between them is not as obvious as you may think. For example, both civil and criminal contempt can include fines as well as jail time. The difference is criminal contempt is meant to punish the disobeying party, whereas civil contempt is more meant to make the harmed party whole again. Because of this, if a party is ordered jail time over civil contempt it may just be until they pay their child support, whereas if they are found in criminal contempt for not paying, they will have to serve their sentence.