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When Can a Person Be Held in Contempt in a Divorce or Family Law Case?

Posted on in Family Law

DuPage County Contempt of Court LawyerIn family law cases, the parties involved will often find themselves at odds with one another. Multiple types of contentious disagreements can arise, and a couple going through a divorce or parents who need to address issues related to child custody may ask a family court judge to make decisions and issue orders detailing how certain matters should be handled. However, conflicts may still continue even after a judge makes these decisions, and one party may accuse the other of violating the court's orders or failing to meet their requirements or obligations. In these situations, one party may ask that the other be held in contempt of court.

Addressing contempt in family law cases can often be a complex matter. A person who is charged with contempt may face serious consequences, and they will usually be looking to show that they did not commit the alleged violations. The other party will usually need to provide compelling evidence showing that willful violations of court orders occurred. To ensure that these matters will be addressed correctly, it is crucial to be represented by an attorney who has experience addressing contempt and other complex family law issues. At Weiss-Kunz & Oliver, LLC, we regularly represent clients in complex divorce and family law cases. We can help you understand your rights and options, and we will work to ensure that these issues can be resolved successfully.

What Is Contempt of Court?

In the context of family law, contempt refers to willful disobedience of a court order. This may include a failure to follow temporary orders put in place while a divorce or child custody case is pending, as well as violations of legal obligations that will apply after a case has concluded. Since a settlement created by spouses or parents or a judgment put in place by a judge will be legally binding, violations of these orders may result in a person being held in contempt of court.

It is important to note that simply disagreeing with a court order does not give rise to a contempt finding. Disputes between spouses, former spouses, or parents will not necessarily be considered contempt, especially if there is confusion about what requirements apply to each party, whether either party did not meet their obligations, or whether violations where committed purposely. Generally, a person may only be held in contempt if they had knowledge of the court's orders and made a conscious decision to disobey them. 

There are generally two types of contempt: civil and criminal. Civil contempt is used to coerce the violator to comply with a court order, whereas criminal contempt is used to punish the violator. In divorce and family law cases, courts will typically use civil contempt. If a person is held in civil contempt, the court may take action to require them to meet their obligations. If a person is held in criminal contempt, they may face multiple types of penalties meant to penalize them for their violations.

Examples of Contempt in Family Law Cases

There are many ways in which a party can disobey a court order and be found in contempt. These violations may be related to multiple aspects of family law cases, including:

  • Property division - During the divorce process, a couple will be required to divide all of their marital property. Based on the decisions made in a divorce settlement or a judgment by a family court judge, a spouse who is in possession of certain assets may be required to turn them over to the other party. If they refuse to do so, the other spouse may seek to have them held in contempt. For example, if a person is required to transfer some of the funds in a retirement account in their name to their former partner, and they do not do so within a reasonable amount of time following the finalization of their divorce, their ex-spouse may ask that they be compelled to complete the transfer. In other situations, ex-spouses may be held in contempt for refusing to turn over physical items such as family heirlooms, or they may be penalized for attempting to hide assets from the other party.

  • Child custody and parenting time - The parenting plan created in a divorce or child custody case will outline the requirements that apply to both parents. If a parent violates these requirements, the other parent may seek to have them held in contempt. Violations may involve a parent's refusal to provide the other parent with information as required, such as information about children's education or medical treatment. However, many of these cases will involve violations of parenting time schedules and interference by one parent in the other parent's relationship with children. If a parent consistently fails to pick up or drop off children at the required times and locations, or if they restrict the other parent's communication and access to children, or if they completely refuse to allow the other parent to spend time with the children, they may be held in contempt for these violations.

  • Child support or spousal support - Failure to pay financial support as required is one of the most common reasons for a person to be held in contempt. If a person is required to make regular payments, and they fall behind or stop making these payments altogether, the other party may file a contempt action. If a person experiences financial difficulties that affect their ability to make payments, they must notify the court and request a modification, and if they fail to do so and do not make payments as required, they may face consequences. In some cases, a person may also be held in contempt for failing to provide information about their income or assets as required. A divorce or child custody order may require a person to submit their annual tax returns or other financial information to the other party, and this information may be necessary in order to calculate support or spousal maintenance obligations accurately. Any failure to comply with requirements put in place by a court order could potentially result in a contempt finding.

Steps Followed in a Contempt Case

If one party believes that the other party should be held in contempt, they can file a "petition for rule to show cause." This document will outline the specific allegations against the other party, and it will request that a hearing be scheduled to address the issue. The court will then issue an order requiring the other party to appear at the hearing, where they will be given an opportunity to explain why they should not be held in contempt. 

During a contempt hearing, the court will consider evidence from both sides and decide whether the alleged violations occurred, and if so, whether the person's actions rose to the level of contempt. This evidence may include testimony from witnesses, financial records, text messages or emails, and anything else that is relevant to the case. If the judge determines that there is enough evidence to support a finding of contempt, they will issue an order finding the person in contempt and imposing penalties.

Consequences of Being Found in Contempt of Court

If a party is found to be in contempt, he or she may be subject to multiple types of penalties. In cases where a person failed to pay financial support as required, they may be placed on probation and required to meet specific conditions, such as meeting all of their support obligations, maintaining steady employment, and avoiding risky behavior that could result in financial losses, such as gambling. The court may sentence a person to up to six months in prison, and during this time, the person may be released in order to work. Some or all of a person's earnings during their period of imprisonment may be used to pay support and meet their financial obligations. 

In addition, if the person is a business owner or is self-employed, they may be required to make monthly reports to the court detailing their business income and expenses. If they are currently unemployed, they may be required to make periodic reports to the court detailing their search for employment, or they may be obligated to work with the Illinois Department of Employment Security to seek employment and have support obligations withheld from their wages.

If a parent is at least 60 days late on child support payments, and they do not report a loss of employment or a change to a new job to the other parent, they may be held in criminal contempt. In these cases, a person may be charged with a criminal violation, and in addition to imprisonment, they may face other consequences, such as the suspension of their driver's license.

If a parent is found in contempt for violating a parenting time order, the court may impose multiple penalties, including suspending their driver's license, placing them on probation, sentencing them to up to six months in prison, and fining them up to $500 for each violation. A parent may also be subject to restrictions on their parenting time and child custody, and any missed parenting time may need to be made up. The parent may be required to receive psychological counseling and/or take part in a parental education program, pay a monetary bond, and reimburse any expenses that resulted from the violation. Restrictions on a person's parenting time may also be put in place, such as requiring their time with their children to be supervised.

Contact Our DuPage County Family Law Attorneys for Contempt of Court

It is important to take court orders seriously. If you do not agree with a court order, you should seek legal assistance so that you can attempt to have the order modified through the proper channels. Disobeying a court order can result in serious consequences, including fines and jail time. If you have any questions about whether your conduct might constitute contempt, you should speak with an attorney before taking any actions. 

If you believe that your ex-spouse or your child's other parent has violated a court order, you will need to determine whether to file a petition for rule to show cause asking that they be held in contempt. In these situations, it is important to consult with an experienced family law attorney to ensure that you have a strong case. At Weiss-Kunz & Oliver, LLC, we can help you gather evidence and prepare your arguments so that you have the best chance of success.

Whether you need to enforce court orders or respond to claims that you have committed a violation, you will need an experienced attorney on your side who can help you understand your rights and options. Our Elmhurst divorce and child custody lawyers can advise you on the best approach to take based on your unique circumstances, and we will provide you with strong and effective representation during court proceedings. To arrange a consultation with our attorneys, call our office today at 312-605-4041.

 

Sources:

https://www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/ilcs5.asp?ActID=2086&ChapterID=59

https://www2.illinois.gov/osad/Publications/DigestbyChapter/CH%2012%20Contempt%20of%20Court.pdf

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