Contempt Of Court: When The Other Party Isn’t Abiding By The Order
Court-ordered directives are common in a variety of Georgia family law matters, including divorce, child custody arrangements, and financial support for former spouses. Both parties are legally required to follow these directives, but unfortunately, some divorcing spouses do not voluntarily comply. Courts issue these rules in an effort to provide equitable resolutions to complex problems. When one party fails to comply with these directives, it disrupts the legal framework and compromises the efficacy of the court’s decisions. Individuals who fail to follow court directives may be considered to be in contempt of court. If your former spouse is failing to abide by a court order, you have legal rights. Contact the experienced Georgia family law attorneys of the Millard Law Firm today at (678) 319-9500 to learn more in a free consultation.
What Is Contempt of Court?
Contempt of court includes actions that show disregard for the court’s authority or disrupt its orderly proceedings. Many behaviors can result in a contempt of court charge, such as causing disturbances during court sessions, obstructing evidence collection, tampering with or destroying evidence, ignoring court directives, or intimidating potential witnesses. In the context of family law, most contempt of court cases involve one party failing to follow court orders.
According to , someone can be charged with contempt of court if they engage in any of the following three behaviors:
- Anyone may be charged if they engage in conduct that disrupts the court, whether directly or in a way that hinders the fair administration of justice
- Court officers who misbehave in official transactions may be charged with contempt
- Anyone may be charged with contempt of court for noncompliance or defiance in response to lawful directives, writs, processes, orders, rules, decrees, or commands issued by the court
What Is the Difference Between Criminal and Civil Contempt?
Understanding the differences between civil and criminal contempt is crucial because each type of contempt is governed by its own set of rules and procedures. According to the United States Department of Justice (DOJ), criminal contempt is essentially treated as a regular crime, which may include criminal punishments as well as constitutional safeguards. If the criminal contempt charge could result in more than six months in prison, the accused also has the right to a jury trial.
Conversely, civil contempt sanctions are aimed at encouraging future compliance with a court order. These sanctions are intended to be more coercive than punitive. Civil contempt sanctions can be imposed through a regular civil process, which simply requires that the accused receive notice of the charge and gives them an opportunity to argue their case. Unlike criminal contempt, civil contempt does not require a jury trial or proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
What Can I Do if My Ex-Spouse Ignores a Court Order?
In divorce proceedings, both parties are required to follow the directives of the court and the terms of the divorce decree. If one spouse fails to comply with a court order, the other may attempt to hold them accountable by filing a motion to hold them in contempt. To file a successful motion, the petitioner and their family law attorney must prove that the defendant has intentionally refused to abide by the terms of a divorce decree or another court order.
Generally, contempt motions must be filed in the same court that originally issued the final order. If the party initiating the contempt motion is a parent aiming to enforce child support, the original court maintains jurisdiction, even if the non-custodial parent who owes support has moved out of state. If you have questions about filing a motion for contempt of court after a divorce, you can learn more by speaking with one of the experienced Georgia family law attorneys at the Millard Law Firm.
How Do You File a Motion for Contempt in Georgia?
The process of filing a motion for contempt in Georgia involves three main stages. An experienced Georgia family law attorney can provide legal guidance to their clients across all stages of the process.
Filing the Motion
One party may begin a motion of contempt by personally serving the motion to the offending party, much like how a divorce complaint is served to a defendant. The defendant or respondent in the contempt action has the right to be notified of any scheduled hearing within a reasonable timeframe. Additionally, they have the right to speak in their own defense (or have a lawyer do so on their behalf) at any such hearing.
Waiting Period and Response
After being served with a motion for contempt, the party served has 30 days to provide an answer or response. In their response, this party has the option to either present a defense or resolve the motion of contempt by adhering to the court’s original order and settling any outstanding financial support obligations. The respondent may also respond by submitting an answer, which may include defenses against the contempt charges.
Hearing For Contempt
When someone facing a contempt charge addresses the issue by meeting the requirements of the court order and paying any overdue financial obligations, they can effectively settle the matter and clear the charge. However, if the individual opts to present a defense against the charge, a formal hearing will be scheduled.
During this hearing, the respondent has the burden of proving either that they did not violate the court order or that any breach was unintentional. Successfully proving either will allow the respondent to avoid a contempt conviction, while failure could involve financial and even criminal penalties, in some cases. Contempt cases are often extremely complex, requiring both sides to gather and present evidence. If you are considering filing a motion of contempt against a spouse who has not met their child support or spousal support obligations, consider seeking legal guidance from an experienced Georgia family law attorney.
Learn More From Our Georgia Family Law Attorneys
When a former spouse or co-parent willfully disregards a court order – whether related to child support, spousal support, or another court-ordered directive – it can be a good idea to consult with a seasoned Georgia family law attorney. At the Millard Law Firm, our team of attorneys has experience in all facets of family law, including filing motions for contempt of court. We are here to offer the knowledgeable guidance and representation you need during these complex proceedings. For more information or to schedule a free consultation, contact us today at (678) 319-9500.