What Actions Can Result in Being Held in Contempt of Court in Family Law Cases


Anyone who is involved in family court proceedings should understand what actions can result in them being held in contempt of court. It is understandable that emotions run high during these proceedings, but it is equally important to ensure that you do not find yourself on the wrong side of the court. 

Once legal proceedings are underway, you can protect yourself from a contempt of court charge, which can result in imprisonment for up to 30 days, fines, or court mandated counseling.  Here are some of the types of issues which can result in a contempt charge. 

Discovery Request Avoidance

The discovery process is an important part of all family law cases. Discovery may involve interrogatories, statements, and documents. When any of these items are requested, they must be accurate. If someone refuses to produce a document, or intentionally withholds information which should have been disclosed, it is possible they could face a contempt of court charge. 

There may be some information requested in discovery which may be considered privileged and may be withheld. The best way to determine this is to work with your family lawyer, which can help you avoid a contempt charge.

Some of the documents which may be asked for involve personal finances such as:

  • Paystubs and tax returns
  • All bank statements
  • Investment account information
  • Mortgage statements and property deeds
  • Business ownership documents when applicable
  • Credit card statements and loan documents
  • Insurance policies

Defying Court Orders Without Cause

Before, during and after a divorce, there may be several court orders issued in a single case. These may include orders about paying child or spousal support, undergoing counseling or treatment, use of marital property, visitation schedules, and more. These orders must be taken seriously, or the other party may file a complaint for contempt of court. There may be other orders which address disposing of assets, changing insurance coverage, or orders to force disclosure of income, assets, and debts.

Keep in mind, court orders are binding on both parties in a divorce or custody proceeding. Abiding by the letter of these orders can help you avoid the potential consequences of a contempt of court charge.

Some of the court orders which may apply following a divorce proceeding include:

  • Visitation orders and parenting plans
  • Payment of Child or Spousal support
  • Transfer of assets to other party

The consequences of violating a court order are serious but you can avoid the serious issues created by a contempt charge by following through on the directions in these orders.

Lack of Decorum During Court Proceedings

There is little doubt that when a complex divorce proceeding is underway, there are difficult issues to content with. Unfortunately, many of these issues are extremely sensitive and oftentimes difficult to hear broadcast publicly.

It is important to remember that a court is not a place for displaying any type of aggression. Courts expect all participants, including attorneys, parties, witnesses, and observers, to adhere to certain standards of behavior to maintain the integrity and fairness of the judicial process.

When participating in a court proceeding, you must remember to avoid shouting, arguing, or engaging in heated exchanges with the judge, opposing counsel, or witnesses. The consequences of these types of actions could result in a contempt of court charge, along with the associated penalties.

Alienation of a Parent

Divorce is never an easy decision. As difficult as it is for the adults involved, too often, it is the children who suffer the most. Courts frown on parents who take steps to undermine the other parent before, during and after the finalization of a divorce.

Parents must always consider the best interests of their children, regardless of the animosity they may feel between them. Children should have a healthy relationship with both parents, regardless of their marital status.

Parental alienation may also include behaviors such as speaking negatively about the other parent in front of the child, limiting contact between the child and the other parent, making false allegations against the other parent.

The court will take these types of actions seriously and if they believe this is what is occurring may hold the party in contempt of court.

Who can Request a Contempt of Court Proceeding?

Too many people believe that it is challenging to prove a contempt of court violation. However, it is also important to understand who has the option to file a request for a contempt hearing:

  • Judges — obviously a judge can initiate contempt proceedings if they believe someone is in contempt by their mannerisms or dress is court, or if they believe one party is disobeying their orders.
  • Parties to the Case — parties involved in a family law case typically include the two adults who are disputing their case in court. However, their attorney may also file a request for a hearing if they believe one party is being harassed, or that there is a violation of a court order.
  • Grandparents or Legal Guardians — the court has the discretion to grant these parties standing to file a contempt complaint. These occur in very rare cases.

The best way to avoid having to face a contempt hearing is to ensure that all of the directives from the court are being adhered to and that you are dealing in good faith with your spouse. Ensuring your emotions do not get the best of you and maintaining a positive environment for your children can also help you avoid these issues.