What Is Contempt of Court After Divorce?

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A court that renders a final decree of divorce retains the power to enforce all aspects of the divorce decree. If either party to the divorce violates the court ordered divorce decree without first motioning the court for modification that party is said to be in “contempt of court.”

Motion For Contempt of Court

If your ex-spouse violates any aspect of the final decree of divorce, you can file a motion for contempt of court.

You can do this as a pro-se litigant or through your attorney. A copy of the contempt motion has to be served upon your ex-spouse.

If you have an attorney, he/she will take care of serving your ex. If you are a pro-se litigant you can call your court clerk for information about forms you need to file and laws pertaining to giving notice to your ex-spouse.

The motion must state what areas of the final decree have been violated and why the ex-spouse should be held in contempt of court. The burden of proof during a contempt hearing is on the injured party. If you feel there has been contempt, be prepared when you go to court to prove your accusations. Some issues that are commonly violated are:

  • Child Support
  • Child Custody
  • Property Distribution
  • Visitation

Guilty of Contempt of Court

If you are able to prove that your ex-spouse is in violation of the court ordered divorce decree then they may be imprisoned for as long as the contempt continues.

Most judges will give the guilty party a chance to immediately comply with the aspect they are in violation of. If they can’t or don’t comply a judge may order them jailed until they do.

The judge will write an order holding your ex-spouse in contempt and specifying how they can purge themselves of the contempt.

The judge may order them to immediately comply or give them a certain amount of time to comply. Every state has laws that would allow your ex-spouse to seek an early release or no jail time at all. Some grounds for no jail time are:

  • No one to care for dependent children
  • Possible loss of his/her job
  • Physical or emotional disabilities
  • Proven inability to comply with the court order

Two Examples of Contempt of Court

1. Joe was ordered to pay $850 dollars a month, on the first of each month, in child support. Joe and his ex-wife shared 50/50 custody of the children. Joe felt that since the children were with the mother as often as they were with him, that it was unfair he should have to pay child support. 

Joe made six times the income his ex made and, for that reason, the judge followed the state's child support guidelines when coming to the decision to order Joe to pay support. Joe took it upon himself to do what he thought was fair under the circumstances. He supported the children when they were in his custody and let the mother support them when they were in his custody.

Joe didn't pay the court ordered child support! What Joe failed to understand is, it doesn't matter what he believes to be fair or unfair.

What matters is how the laws in his state determine what is fair and unfair. No one is above the law, not even Joe.

Joe's ex filed a contempt of court motion and Joe was given 30 days to pay the $5,100 he was behind in child support. And, the judge signed an order garnishing Joe's wages for the monthly child support.

Joe not only ended up paying, he suffered the humiliation of knowing his employer was made aware of his predicament.

2. Jane's divorce decree allowed her ex-husband to see his children one night a week for dinner and every other weekend for regular visitation. The decree also stated that Jane was to share educational records and information with her ex and keep him updated with any medical issues.

 Jane had always been controlling during the marriage and once the divorce was final the only way she could exert control over her ex was by using the children against him.

And Jane had no qualms when it came to using her children as pawns.    

If Jane's ex didn't meet her demands post-divorce she would refuse him access to the children. On Wednesday when he would try to collect the children for their weekly dinner, the house would be empty and doors locked. On many occasions, Jane would take the children out of town instead of allowing their father to have them on his court-ordered weekends.

Jane's ex filed a motion for contempt of court based on parental interference. Jane's interference and refusal to promote a relationship between her ex and the children was so egregious that she lost custody of her children. Jane paid the ultimate price.

We've heard people say that a divorce court order was nothing but a "piece of paper." It is a piece of paper, one that is recorded with your local court and, if you find yourself defying the orders on that piece of paper you may learn the hard way just how much weight a piece of paper can carry.