Contempt action – when is one appropriate?

contempt action

Before you file a contempt action, there are many things that you need to consider. One of the types of family law cases that we deal with quite a bit at our firm is contempt.  We have previously written blogs about criminal contempt and civil contempt. With that being said, why are we writing another blog about it?   Well, the best way to answer that is to point out that our previous blogs talked about what contempt is, while this blog is intended to explain what contempt is not.

We get phone calls all the time about minor infractions or mistakes made by an opposing party and are asked to file contempt actions that really have no merit. In this blog, we will talk about that, and how some of these issues are inappropriate to bring before a judge.  This is for educational purposes only and it is not intended as a substitute for the legal advice and counsel of a family law attorney. Before filing a contempt action, you may wish to consult with a family law attorney in your area.

Some of the phone calls we get:

“He was late dropping off my daughter – I want to take him to court for contempt”

Contempt is a remedy for the purposeful violation or court order.  The key word in that statement is purposeful, so you may be able to file for contempt in this example or you may not.  A few questions you must ask yourself:

  1. Did he contact you first and let you know that he was going to be running late because of some emergency or other circumstance?
  2. Was there an issue with traffic or something else happening that was unavoidable?
  3. Was this a one-time thing rather than a pattern of behavior?
  4. Was he just a few minutes late accidentally?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, a contempt action would be inappropriate.

“She didn’t let me have my weekend with my son, I want to file a contempt action”

On its surface, this seems more actionable than the previous example, but it still requires some purposeful conduct by the opposing party.  A few questions to ask in this example are:

  1. What do you mean she didn’t let you? Did she refuse to delivery the child or made the child inaccessible to you?
  2. Why did this happen, did she give you a reason?
  3. Was there some emergency that the made it unsafe for the child for you to exercise that particular visit?

Depending on the answer to these questions, a contempt action may or may not be appropriate.

It is not as black and white as some people would like to believe

Contempt actions are not just about whether or not there was some slight deviation from a court order.  These cases are very fact specific and they depend on a lot of different factors.  No two contempt cases are going to be exactly the same.

Try not to waste the court’s time

In these instances, a little communication and compromise would go a long way.  You don’t want to be in the position where you are asking a judge to referee a petty argument between you and your former spouse, or you and your co-parent. Too often we just have two people who cannot get along and they are attempting to get each other in trouble.  Judges don’t tend to react well to that, as there are serious matters that are pending in the meantime.

If you want to set up a consultation about contempt or any other family law issue, contact us.

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