Contempt of court proceedings in family cases usually arise from allegations that one party has violated a court order. Although contempt of court covers a broad range of conduct, including disruption of proceedings, divorce and child custody attorneys usually see contempt proceedings when one party is accused of not paying required child support, maintenance, or failing to comply with another court order such as a parenting schedule.
Contempt of court proceedings in domestic cases usually begin when one party to a case files a motion against the other. That motion will also include an affidavit which sets out the alleged violation of the courts order.
If the court accepts the motion, usually a hearing is set which gives the party accused of violating the courtʼs order an opportunity to “show cause”, or argue to the court that they should not be punished. There are several common defenses at a show cause hearing. Sometimes the accused will simply pay any arrears prior to the hearing and ask the court to find that they are not in contempt. Other defenses include showing inability to comply with the courtʼs order or showing that an order was reasonably misunderstood or ambiguous.
If the court holds a party in contempt, both remedial and punitive actions are possible. If the court is only interested in correcting the violation, it may simply order compliance or require the violating party to take new steps to make things right. If the court believes punishment is appropriate, fines and even jail time can be imposed.
Parties to a court order should always remember that all of the orders entered by the court are mandatory. It is often tempting over time to come to verbal agreements with the other party, and the more time that passes after a decree enters the more likely verbal modifications between parties will occur. However, parties should be cautious when making these kinds of agreements as there is some danger of having to defend a contempt of court action later if there is a misunderstanding regarding the change, or worse, if the other party becomes angry for whatever reason and attempts to abuse the process.
The question of attorney fees often rises in contempt cases. If one party to a case is required to force compliance with a court order through contempt proceedings, the violator may find themselves paying what was owed, sometimes with interest, along with any attorney fees for both sides. On the other hand, sometimes in particularly contentious cases, one side will file frivolous contempt motions in an attempt to drive up litigation costs, delay proceedings, or simply to harass. They too, are more likely to find themselves paying the attorney fees for the other side.
Contempt of court proceedings help Colorado families enforce payments and parenting time, along with plenty of other court orders and entitlements. However, the process is occasionally abused by an overly zealous litigant. If you need help with a contempt of court hearing, enforcement of a court order, or you are just researching the benefits of obtaining a court order over relying on verbal agreements, feel free to call my office.