Contempt

One issue that comes up frequently for family law and divorce attorneys, especially here in the Piedmont Triad, is what happens if the opposing party does not follow an order issued by the court. After spending your time and money, the court issues an order in your case directing both you and the opposing party to follow its terms. But what if the opposing party does not obey the terms of the court order? Court orders are serious business and must be followed. If the other party in litigation does not follow the court order, you can file a motion to hold the disobedient party in contempt.

For example, the Guilford County District Court Judge issues an order requiring Tammy to pay $250 a month in child support to Matt (names are hypothetical). For the first two months, Matt pays child support as ordered. Then he stops paying child support altogether. Tammy can file a motion to hold Matt in contempt because he is not obeying the terms of the court order. 

There is a distinction between criminal contempt and civil contempt. Criminal contempt includes a broader range of actions that constitute contempt, whereas civil contempt consists of failing to comply with the terms of a court order. The sanctions available for criminal and civil contempt are fairly similar in their variety and severity.

To demonstrate the broader range of actions that constitute criminal contempt, here are some examples of criminal contempt: 

1. “Willful behavior committed during the sitting of a court and directly tending to interrupt its proceedings.
2. Willful behavior committed during the sitting of a court in its immediate view and presence and directly tending to impair the respect due its authority. 
3. Willful disobedience of, resistance to, or interference with a court’s lawful process, order, directive, or instruction or its execution.”

In comparison, civil contempt consists of failing to obey a court order.

According to N.C.G.S. §5A-21, “failure to comply with an order of a court is a continuing civil contempt as long as: 

1. The order remains in force;
2. The purpose of the order may still be served by compliance with the order;
3. The noncompliance by the person to whom the order is directed is willful; and
4. The person to whom the order is directed is able to comply with the order or is able to take reasonable measures that would enable the person to comply with the order.”

Therefore, as long as the four requirements listed above are met, the court has the ability to impose sanctions for civil contempt. The court has a number of options available to correct the contempt, but three are most common.

1. Order the disobedient party to serve time in jail, usually 1 - 30 days
2. Order the disobedient party to pay money owed.
3. Order the disobedient party to pay your attorney fees.

If the opposing party fails to correct the contempt, he or she will remain under continuing civil contempt until they do so. Civil contempt sanctions remain in effect until the disobedient party complies with the court order. Our family law and divorce attorneys have experience with motions for contempt and dealing with the sanctions that may follow.


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