Divorce and Contempt of Court / by Cassandra Hearn

Every divorce case is unique.  In some cases, the parties have already come to an amicable agreement and simply need the paper work put through the court system to make it all official.  On the other end of the spectrum are highly contentious cases when the parties will fight over every issue all the way through the final hearing.  In any type of case, there will be court orders entered telling the parties what to do with their property, their money, and their children.  If one of the spouses violates a court order, it is possible that he or she may be found in contempt of court.

An action for contempt of court means that you are telling the court that your spouse has violated one of the court orders that has been made during the divorce or as part of the final decree.  However, simply showing a violation is not enough to successfully have your spouse found in contempt.  First, there must actually be a valid court order.  If you have a motion pending requesting certain relief and your spouse takes some action that is not in line with what you request, that is not contempt of court because there is not yet a court order.  Next, you must show that your spouse was actually aware of the order.  In other words, your spouse has to have been served with the order or received notice through the legally recognized channels.  Simply telling your spouse that there is an order will not be enough to satisfy this element.  Third, you must demonstrate your spouse willfully violated the order.  If your spouse was a day late dropping off your children because they were on vacation and their flight was cancelled, that will not be sufficient for contempt because your spouse has no control over flight scheduling.  Conversely, if your spouse drops them off a day late simply because he did not feel like returning the children on time, that could very well be an actionable offense.

In divorce, many clients want to file every time a spouse does not live up to every obligation in an order, but this is often not the best strategy.  Filing a request for contempt every time your spouse is fifteen minutes late dropping off the children will not only be expensive, it could backfire because the court may feel you are too litigious.  A better strategy may be to make careful records of every time your spouse is late over a three month period and then bring it to the court’s attention.  This careful consideration needs to be done together with your attorney.

Contempt actions in a divorce case can have severe repercussions for both sides.  Contact us today to talk about your rights and responsibilities under your divorce orders.