July 25, 2023

Can You Hold Your Former Spouse in Contempt?

When a final order is issued in your divorce or family law matter, you might breathe a sigh of relief. The order might mark the end of a highly contentious situation, and the resolution might be fair under the circumstances. However, that order is only valuable if it’s enforced. And in too many instances, individuals think that they can sidestep the court order so that they can do whatever they want and whatever they feel is justified.

However violating a court order can cause harm and disruption, and it can lead to court action. If your former spouse or your children’s other parent violates an existing court order, you might want to consider taking legal action against them. After all, that might be the only way to protect your time and relationship with your children, your financial stability, and your sense of fairness.

What does the process look like?

If you want to force compliance with a court order, you might have to try to hold your former spouse or your child’s other parent in contempt to coerce them to get back in line. This process starts with the filing of a motion for a rule to show cause.

With this motion, you’ll have to allege that the other party willfully violated an existing court order. To do so, you’ll need to be as specific as possible in showing the following:

  • The specific order that has been violated
  • How the other party was aware of the order
  • When the order was violated
  • How the order was violated

Details matter here, so you’ll want to be as specific as possible. Any attempts that you’ve made to try to get the other party to comply with the court order can be helpful, too.

Once the motion has been filed, the court should issue an order requiring the other party to appear in court to explain why they shouldn’t be held in contempt.

Preparing for the hearing

Since the contempt hearing is being held on your motion, the court will expect you to present evidence to support your position. You should, therefore, consider putting forth some of the following:

  • Written communications with the other party about the court order
  • Witness testimony about the other party’s noncompliance with the applicable order
  • Evidence demonstrating your attempts to obtain compliance with the court order

The other side will probably argue that they weren’t aware of the court order in question or that they unintentionally violated the court’s order, so be sure to focus on their knowledge and their intent.

What happens if the court finds them in contempt?

Unlike criminal law, civil contempt is aimed at coercing compliance with the court’s order rather than punishing an individual for noncompliance. Therefore, the other party might be allowed to purge the contempt before being hit with sanctions. With that said, the court can fine the individual in question or even jail them until they’re willing to comply with the court’s order. In other instances, though, the court may order the other parent to be placed under supervision while they complete a parenting class, seek employment, or enter substance abuse treatment.

A contempt finding can have collateral consequences, too. For example, if your former spouse is held in contempt for failing to abide by a custody order, you might be able to use that finding as a justification to seek modification.

Take the legal action necessary to protect your interests

Very few people like being embroiled in the legal process. Yet, it’s often necessary to protect your interests. If you’re in that situation now, please carefully consider your next steps so that you can take the action needed to better ensure that you obtain a fair outcome under the circumstances.