What is Contempt of Court in Family Law?

If a party fails to comply with a family law order, the court charges them with contempt. What exactly is contempt? The formal name for this offense is “contempt of court family law.” Contempt is a behavior that interrupts or obstructs a court order or procedure. 

In general, activities that might lead to a contempt prosecution require a continuous or recurrent refusal to obey family court processes and a court judgment.

When it comes to family law matters, parties frequently get into contempt for failing to make support payments (child support or alimony) or failing to follow other particular directions imposed by the court in a family law decree. If the parties agree to specified actions in a determined separation agreement and refuse to follow through on them, they get punishment for contempt of court in family court.

Let us understand it briefly. 

Understanding Contempt of Court in Family Law

Contempt of family court order determines the concept of court and its penalties at which party do the act. If a party is found in contempt of court, it indicates that his or her acts or inactions violate a court order (civil contempt) or that his or her behavior disobeys, offends, or disrespects the authority or dignity of the court’s moral contempt (criminal contempt).

A person might be held in contempt for his or her own actions or inaction. Some common causes of contempt of court that occur during or after divorce procedures include:

  • Violating a restraining order;
  • Failing to pay child support or spousal support as required;
  • Refusing to give the other parent visitation as authorized in the parenting plan;
  • Failing to return the kid to the other parent after the visitation period under contempt of family court order. 

What Are The Types of Contempt?

  1. Direct (In Face) Contempt

This is quite uncommon. It occurs when someone interferes with a court procedure in front of the judge. Swearing in court, fighting with the judge, making threats, and causing disruptive conducts are examples. When someone performs one of these acts, the judge has the authority to instantly declare them “in contempt of court” and imprison them.

People often behave nicely in front of the judge and only defy directions outside of court (Indirect Contempt or Ex facie contempt). It usually refers to the failure to obey court orders outside the court.

  1. Civil Disobedience

This contempt of court family law forces someone to obey a court order. It compels someone to take action (such as signing a deed or refinancing a mortgage) or to prevent someone from engaging in a habit of behavior (like continually withholding children from the other parent). Civil contempt is less difficult to establish than criminal contempt. If the Court decides that the individual is breaching the court order by a preponderance of the evidence, they might server the sentence of indefinite detention until they comply with the order. This is because the legislation states that they “have the keys to the jailhouse in their pocket,” implying that they may get out of prison anytime they fulfil the command.

Criminal Contempt

This penalizes the particular instances of behavior. For example, if someone fails to make three alimony payments, they will be charged with three “counts of criminal contempt.” Criminal contempt is intended to punish, not compel someone to obey an order. As a result, the fines and safeguards are significantly stronger. Each incident of criminal contempt brings a 10-day prison sentence or a $50 fine. Therefore, someone who violates a court order 18 times may face 6 months in prison and $900 in penalties. Because the consequences of family law proceedings are so severe, those accused with criminal contempt are entitled to all protections afforded to those detained and charged with a crime. They are entitled to an attorney, to remain quiet, and to have each allegation of contempt proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

When is Contempt to be Used in Family Law Cases?

When is Contempt to be Used in Family Law Cases?

The Court of Appeal established the following principles for using contempt in family law cases:

  1. A civil contempt remedy is the last option; a contempt order should not be given if the aggrieved party has other acceptable remedies available.
  2. When evaluating contempt motions in family law disputes, extreme caution should be utilized.
  3. Contempt findings should be made rarely and only after problem solving, sessions or motions for enforcement have failed.

The goal of a civil contempt prosecution is always compliance, not punishment.

Punishments and Sanctions for Contempt of Court

Family court contempt proceedings are differ from criminal proceedings in that their verdicts can be overturned. The term “purgeable” refers to the fact that you can avoid sanctions whenever the contemnor returns to compliance with the court order. Coercive civil contempt seeks to compel future compliance with a court order rather than exact punishment for the previous non-compliance.

Civil contempt cases penalties can range from mild to severe. Punishment for contempt of court in family court may include the following, depending on the nature of the violation:

  • Garnishment of wages
  • Court-ordered supervised visitation
  • Fines
  • Modifications to the original parenting plan (in some states, such as Washington, if a parent is found in repeated violation of a parenting plan, the judge may choose to change it)
  • Imprisonment


Family Court Contempt proceedings are serious! 

To reword family law court proceedings, “orders are not ideas,” and they are neither instructions nor recommendations. Orders must be taken seriously and adhered to at all time. Anyone found offender must obey the court proceeding of consent, just as orders made following contentious hearings must be obeyed.

Repeated and flagrant violations of orders may result in a judgment of contempt, with the resulting sentence determined by the court. This is not the course to pursue in your family law case. Every judge who looks at your file will notice a contempt judgment against you and will know you defied and insulted the court. Therefore, you should understand that attorney client relationship is important. If you are confined at any case, you can seek family law attorney for legal advice in contempt proceedings. 


Contempt court orders are not suggestions; there are strict orders. Every judge who looks at your file will notice a contempt judgment against you and will know you defied and insulted the court. Therefore, one should avoid disobeying the judge in family court.