What Does Contempt of Court Mean in Maryland Family Law?

Our family law attorneys know contempt family court and can help you get help enforcing your judgment or custody order.

When your Judgment of Absolute Divorce or custody order is final it ends your family court case. But sometimes one spouse or co-parent doesn’t follow through with what they have been told to do. When that happens, you may need to file a petition for contempt of court, and ask the Maryland family court to help you enforce its orders.

What is Contempt of Court?

Contempt of court is the intentional and willful violation of a court order. When someone files a contempt of court action, the Court can find the violator “in contempt” and impose consequences designed to push people toward complying with the court’s instructions. Contempt proceedings start after a court order is entered and after one of the parties has violated that order, generally this occurs out of court. This failure to comply could happen during your divorce if there are temporary orders or discovery orders in place. More often, contempt proceedings are post-judgment.

If your spouse or co-parent is violating a court order, you must file a petition for contempt. When you do, the Maryland family court will issue a Show Cause Order along with a Writ of Summons naming a specific time and day that the other party must appear in court to explain his or her failure to comply with the order. You or your family law attorney must serve your ex-spouse or co-parent with these documents, along with your petition. Then, you must appear in court for the Show Cause hearing. When you do, it will be up to you and your attorney to show that:

  • There was a clear order requiring the other party to do something
  • That they did not do that thing
  • They had the ability to do the thing they did not do

Then it will be up to the other party to explain why they violated the court order. As a recent Maryland Court of Special Appeals decision explained, the purpose of constructive civil contempt proceedings in family law cases is to pressure the non-performing party to comply with the order going forward, rather than punishing the party for a past violation. You will want to work with your family law attorney to explain the continuing harm being caused by the other party’s actions, and what corrective action would be needed to correct it.

Also, the clearer your initial order is, the easier it will be to prove contempt of court. If the thing you wanted the person to do wasn’t included in the language of your judgment, you will not be able to enforce it. That is why your divorce lawyer should try to include all the necessary details in any settlement agreement or Judgment of Absolute Divorce.

Reasons for Contempt in Family Court

Any violation of any court order can result in contempt proceedings. Courts take their orders seriously, so you should too. However, some of the most common reasons for contempt in family court are:

  • Failure to pay child support or alimony
  • Withholding children from court-ordered visitation or custody exchanges
  • Violating freezes on bank accounts and financial assets during divorce
  • Failing to comply with discovery orders to produce documents or records
  • Holding on to property awarded to the other party

Consequences of Being Held in Contempt of Court in Family Law Cases

If the Maryland Family Court judge determines that you have violated a court order, it can enter various orders to encourage you to do what you have been instructed to do. Depending on the violation a contempt of court order may:

  • Order make-up visitation for days missed
  • Adjust custodial time going forward
  • Order law enforcement to assist with the return of withheld children (in rare cases)
  • Enter a payment schedule for unpaid child support and alimony
  • Require a lump sum payment of unpaid balances
  • Enter an automatic income withholding order and send it to your employer for collections
  • Order the immediate return of property
  • Allow the other party to enter your home to reclaim the property
  • Order you to pay attorney fees and costs for the contempt proceedings
  • Sentence you to jail time (in rare cases)

Options for Enforcing Family Court Orders Before Contempt

Filing a petition for contempt of court always drives up tension and conflict between co-parents, and that can put stress on your children. While it is important for both parents to honor the agreements and court orders, contempt of court may not be the best way to maintain a working co-parenting relationship. Before you file a petition you may:

  • Ask your attorney to help negotiate compliance
  • Mediate your dispute with your co-parent to make adjustments and make future compliance easier (for example, adjusting pick-up and drop-off times for visitation)
  • Use collaborative law processes to identify and address the causes of noncompliance (for example, if the children are resistant to visitation, agreeing to family counseling)

Get Help Enforcing Your Judgment or Custody Order

At the Law Office of Shelly M. Ingram, our family law attorneys know that a court order is only useful if it can be enforced. We want you to feel confident that you will receive what the court has awarded you following a divorce or custody case. We will meet with you in person, or virtually, and carefully review all the details of your order, and any potential violations. We will discuss your enforcement options, and help you choose the one that will be most effective in your situation. Contact us today to schedule a consultation with an attorney.

Categories: Family Law