FAQs: Contempt of Court in Family Law

What is an Order to Show Cause (OSC) and affidavit for contempt?

An OSC for contempt is legal petition to the court asking the court to sanction (punish) an individual for not obeying a prior court order.

What is the punishment if found in contempt of court?

If someone is found in contempt of court, the court may order up to five days in jail for each act of contempt. The court may also place the guilty party on probation for a period of years and monitor the person to see if there are any further violations of the court order.

What are advisable reasons to bring up contempt charges?

Generally speaking, the courts are not overly fond of contempt actions. Contempt cases are filed in family court, where the common mantra heard is try to work things out, compromise, negotiate. A contempt action is a nuclear option, as someone may go to jail. It leaves out all possibility of “getting along,” and it is sanctioned legal warfare. If a contempt is misused, it may have the effect of putting the offending party in a bad light with the court.

However, there are situations that a contempt must be filed to get the attention of the other side who has flagrantly ignored court orders without cause. The possibility of a jail sentence may cause one to more carefully consider their actions.

What are some examples of ignored court orders that commonly result in the pursuit of a contempt charge?

Non-payment of support obligations would be the primary reason for contempt action filings, with non-compliance with child visitation orders likely a close second.

What must one spouse (the OSC petitioner) prove to hold the other spouse in contempt?

There are four things that must be proven in order to have someone held in contempt of court; 1 Was there a valid order, 2. Was the opposition aware of the order, 3. Was the order disobeyed, 4. Did the opposition have the ability to comply with the order.

What actions are advisable if you are cited in an OSC?

Obviously, because one’s possible liberty is at stake, it is imperative that you contact experienced and competent counsel to assist with a legal defense. Do not make the matter worse by contacting the opposition and making threats. Gather whatever evidence you might have, do not destroy any possible evidence. Do not talk to anyone about your matter (except an attorney) as the person you speak to may end up being a witness against you.

Remember, a contempt action is considered to be a quasi-criminal matter, with most of the same rights, privileges, and obligations mandated within a criminal proceeding.