Attorney, Cordell & Cordell
A Motion for Contempt is a common occurrence in family law proceedings. In previous articles on contempt of court, I addressed the legal concept of contempt and outlined the conditions that must be met for contempt.
In this article, I will tell you the possible punishments for being found in contempt.
What are the consequences of being found in contempt?
Time to reach for that get out of jail free card you’ve been holding on to.
You might be thinking, "Really? They’re going to send me to jail just because I forgot to tell my ex about a couple of doctor appointments?"
Well, it is unlikely that the judge will send you to jail for being unable to communicate with your ex, but there could be other consequences which might hit you harder, whether in the wallet or in your time with your child.
If the court has determined that there was a valid order you knew about and failed to comply with, and you have the present ability to comply with that order, you are now in contempt.
The first thing the court will do is give you the opportunity to cure your contempt. This is mostly done for financial contempt. If you are able to pay some or all of the back support you had been withholding or pay off the debt assigned to you in your dissolution judgment, then it is unlikely the judge will send you to jail. You may have to pay a portion of your ex’s attorney’s fees for having to take you to court to enforce the order.
Remember that civil contempt was initially set up to coerce compliance of the parties, not punish them with confinement. If the contempt action can get you, or your ex, to do what they’re supposed to do, then it is unlikely jail time will be involved.
If, on the other hand, your ex has the ability to pay, and the court gives him/her the opportunity to cure their contempt but they refuse, it may be proper for the court to sentence them to some amount of jail time.
While this may seem counterproductive, the idea here is that they are not being sent to jail because they can’t pay, but because they can and just don’t want to pay. They will likely want to post bail and the court can use that money to repay the debt owed.
Outside of jail time, the court has within its discretion the ability to assess fines, award compensatory visitation, or even change custody arrangements when one party is unwilling to follow the court’s orders regarding legal or physical custody rights.
Typically a Court will only modify a parenting plan or custody arrangement if the contempt action is paired with a Motion to Modify.
Awarding compensatory visitation, or make-up days, is one way for you to regain time lost when the other party has withheld custody with just cause. Again, civil contempt is meant to coerce compliance, and most people will be willing albeit begrudgingly to comply with an order when their wallet starts taking a beating.
If you believe your ex spouse is flouting the court’s order to your or your child’s detriment, they may be in contempt. You should speak with an attorney in your area immediately to determine whether or not you have a remedy within the court system.
Read other articles in our contempt series:
Note: While this article addresses some of the issues that arise when preparing for a contempt proceeding, you may have additional questions regarding your own specific situation. You also may be from a state where the applicable laws differ significantly from Missouri, where I practice.
You should not rely on this article as establishing an attorney-client relationship, and you should contact an attorney in your area immediately if you need additional information or legal representation.
Cordell & Cordell has men's divorce lawyers in 17 states.
William Halaz is a Staff Attorney in the Arnold, Missouri office of Cordell & Cordell, P.C. Mr. Halaz is licensed to practice in the state of Missouri. Mr. Halaz received his bachelor's degree in Political Science from Southeast Missouri State University. Then continuing his education, received his Juris Doctor from St. Louis University’s School of Law.