Civil Contemptcivil contempt

There are two types of contempt in North Carolina – civil contempt and criminal contempt. Previously, we wrote a blog on criminal contempt in North Carolina (click here to read more). This blog will explore civil contempt in North Carolina.

What is Contempt?

Contempt is generally considered to be an individual’s willful disobedience of a court order. The purpose of a civil contempt order is to promote compliance with the court order. The purpose of a criminal contempt order is to punish certain types of behavior.

On What Grounds is an Order for Civil Contempt Issued?

N.C.G.S. § 5A-21 states that the failure to comply with a civil order is considered civil contempt as long as:

  • The order remains in force;
  • The purpose of the order may still be served by compliance with the order;
  • The noncompliance by the person to whom the order is directed is willful; and
  • The person to whom the order is directed is able to comply with the order or is able to take reasonable measures that would enable the person to comply with the order.

What Happens If I am Found to Be in Contempt of a Civil Order?

If an individual is found to be in contempt of a civil order, they are always provided with an opportunity to correct their contempt. As an example, this can be done by making good on past due child support payment; by allowing visitation of the other party with a child; or by complying with the terms of a separation agreement. Please note, that violation of a separation agreement can only be considered contempt of court if the separation agreement has been incorporated into a court order, such as via a divorce decree.

An individual found to be in civil contempt can be imprisoned under N.C.G.S. § 5A-21(b1) for a period of up to ninety days, which can be extended to one or more periods of ninety days if the individual is still found to be in civil contempt.

How to Clear Civil Contempt Orders – The Purge Clause

Under N.C.G.S. § 5A-22(a), a person must be released when his civil contempt no longer continues. The order of the court must specify how the person may purge himself of the contempt. Upon finding compliance with the specifications, the sheriff or other officer having custody may release the person without a further order from the court. As previously mentioned, the purpose of civil contempt orders is to promote the individual’s compliance with the court order, so if an individual follows the specifications set out by the court, then they must be released according to NC law.

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