Filing a Motion for Contempt Child Custody


Custodial parents may file a motion for contempt if the non-custodial parent violates the court’s decision for child custody. Gain more information here.

What is Contempt of Court Order?


Contempt of court order is a broad legal issue that arises when someone disobeys a court order. The term is used to enforce the legal authority of court orders.

State laws allow courts to hold parties in civil contempt to enforce child support court orders that have not been followed. An example is a failure to pay child support payments.

If a person decides not to pay their child support payments when due, they may violate a court order. Similarly, parents who fail to follow parenting plans that they agreed to may also be violating a court order.

For a court to find a parent to be in contempt for violating a court order for child support payments, there needs to be proof of the following:

  • There is a standing court order requiring a parent to perform a specific act

  • This parent is capable of complying with the court order

  • This parent has chosen not to comply with the court order.

Being in contempt of court order because of failure to pay child support attracts severe sanctions, including jail time.

You may need a trusted custody lawyer to deal with a contempt of a child custody order. Whether you are the defaulting parent, a child custody lawyer will provide you with the formal legal advice you need to navigate this issue.

How to File a Motion for Contempt

The following are the steps to follow when filing a motion for contempt of court’s custody order.

Send a Written Request to the Other Party

Before a person can be held in contempt, there must be proof that they are aware of the court order. A written request served to the other party is your proof.

In your written request, include details of the requirements from the court order, what the other party has failed to do, and a request to follow the court order.

Contact your family lawyer for assistance in writing your written request.

File a Motion for Contempt

The next part is to file a Motion for Contempt or an Application for Show of Cause Order with a Show Cause Order. This step is taken only when your written request for compliance has been ignored.

A judge will sign your Show Cause Order and provide a date for a hearing. The other parent will need to come to the hearing and show cause for not complying with the order.

The Motion for Contempt and Show Cause Order must be served to the other parent at least seven days before the hearing.


Perform Discovery

Before the court hearing date, there might be a need to perform discovery.

Discovery is the ability to request information, usually financial, from the other side. The information presented could be used during the Show Cause hearing.

Note that discovery is not compulsory.


Attend Court Hearing

Be punctual! Arrive 30 minutes early to clear security and find the courtroom. Witnesses have to arrive simultaneously in court.

How Does the Contempt Process Work?

Contempt of court can be both civil and criminal. Misbehaving in court, such as yelling or acting violent, is criminal contempt. When a person disobeys a judge’s custody order, they may be held in civil contempt.

There must first be an active court order to be held in contempt of a court order. Your court order cannot be enforced through contempt proceedings if it has expired. The only exception to this rule in some states is for child support issues.

Through contempt proceedings, you may be able to enforce a child support order even after your child has reached the age of majority. You may need to speak with a child custody law professional to determine whether contempt proceedings are appropriate in your case.

A hearing will be scheduled after the deadline. To prove contempt, the petitioning parent must prove that the other party violated the custody order. They may also call witnesses at the hearing.

You can employ a child custody attorney to represent you in these proceedings. They can ensure that you have a solid defense and that the relevant evidence is appropriately delivered in court.

The court then examines all the evidence and decides if there was a contempt of court.

Punishments for Contempt of Court in Family Court

The party found in civil contempt for violating a court order will face sanctions.

Sanctions for child custody contempt include:

  • Granting one parent sole custody

  • Court-supervised visits

  • Prison

  • Visitation reduction

  • Fines.

Given the severity of the sanctions, parents are encouraged to be proactive in letting the court know if there has been a change in circumstances.

For example, suppose a parent can no longer afford child support. In that case, they need to let the court know this as soon as possible and ask for a reduction in child support or a modification to other terms of the court order.

In their submission to the court, the parent in question needs to provide proof to substantiate the request. An example of this is financial records.

How to Beat Contempt of Court for Child Support?

To beat a contempt of court, you first need to determine which court order the other parent claims you violate.

Examine the court order to see if you breached the agreement for child support payments. At this point, a child custody attorney can help you understand the court order and the other parent’s claims.

Afterward, your attorney can start to build a robust case for you using the following defenses:

    Is the Court Order Unclear?

    A vague or ambiguous court order could result in the dismissal of the motion for contempt on the ground that the parties may not be capable of complying with the order because they don’t know what the order is.


    Is There a Violation?

    The court cannot hold you in contempt if you have not violated a court order. For instance, if you have been accused of not paying alimony when you had, you could have the contempt motion dismissed by showing proof that you paid.


    Was it a Willful Violation?

    Intentional or willful violation of the court order is required for contempt. If you broke the court order due to uncontrollable circumstances, this might form a defense against contempt.

    If you can no longer afford to pay child support, you need to prove this to the court.


    The Doctrine of Unclean Hands

    The doctrine of unclean hands states that if a petitioner acted in bad faith or committed wrongdoing related to an alleged contempt, the petitioner may not be able to win the case.

    For instance, suppose a court ordered one parent to organize medical evaluations and treatment on the children. However, this parent failed to do so partly because the other parent refused to pay court-ordered child support.

    This means that the first parent was not financially able to pay for those medical expenses. In this instance, the court might not hold the first parent in contempt in this instance.

      When to File a Motion of Contempt for Child Custody

      Contempt proceedings and sanctions can be costly and upsetting. Parents need to do everything possible to avoid the situation.

      Suppose your parenting plan and court order are unclear and cause conflict between you and your co-parent.

      In that case, you can start with a motion to clarify before proceeding with contempt proceedings. A Motion for Clarification requests that the family court explain specific provisions in your court order in greater detail.

      Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) is another option you have before going to court. ADR methods encompass all dispute resolution techniques that avoid going to court, with mediation being the most common example.

      It is highly recommended that you discuss your case with a trusted custody lawyer who can advise you based on the local laws governing contempt of court.

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