What Is Contempt?
All orders regarding child support, child custody, property division, or alimony are binding. It's usually possible to modify child support, custody, or alimony orders, but property division is usually non-modifiable. If one of the parties does not follow these Orders they risk running into a “contempt for noncompliance” charge.
Contempt can be punishable with, fines, probations, suspending drivers' licenses, court fees, and in very extreme cases, the Court can order imprisonment until the party comes into compliance with the Order violated.
When an Order is entered regarding child custody, parents are expected to follow the orders closely. In some cases, a parent may try to flagrantly disobey the orders.
Interfering with Custody
All custody Orders outline exactly which parent has custody of the children on a set schedule. If either parent fails to exchange custody at the end of their custody time, and they withhold custody from the other parent, they are in violation of the Order and can be found in contempt.
Interfering with Communication
Custody arrangements are made in the child's best interest and often provide for reasonable telephone, text, or video call access for the non-custodial parent. A parent may be in contempt if they interfere with allowing that communication. Likewise if one parent insists on unreasonably excessive communication with the children when they are with the other parent, that also can be seen as grounds for Contempt or modification of the Order.
Denying Custody for Failing to Pay Child Support
Although not keeping up with child support payments is a contemptible offense, it does not give one parent the right to deny custody to the other parent. These are separate matters. Parents not receiving child support payments should pursue contempt proceedings against the other parent rather than risk their own contempt allegations by limiting contact.
Missing Payments of Child Support
Child support Orders must be followed and if you fear you may start missing payments because your income has changed, filing a Petition to Modify will usually protect you from allegations of willful non-payment until the court can consider your request for a modification.
To modify an Order, the filing party must establish that there has been a substantial change in circumstances: for example, either custody has changed or one parent's income has changed substantially.
Missing Child Support Payments
Child support payments are determined after an analysis of a parents' financial obligation to help raise their child. Often a contentious issue, some parents may decide to abstain from paying to protest or to hurt their ex-partner.
Whatever the reason, missing child support payments is considered contempt of the court's order and faces harsh penalties. The Pennsylvania Bureau of Child Support Enforcement handles these issues.
Missing Alimony Payments
Cases involving alimony can be prickly, but if the court has ordered the payments must happen, it's considered contempt when those payments aren't made. Payments must be made in full, unless they've been legally modified.
There are different penalties for failing to comply with court orders. There could be jail time, fines, or sanctions.
If a parent has violated a custody agreement, they may face allegations of contempt. If that party is found in contempt by the Judge, the Judge could Order them to pay, a maximum fee of $500, attorneys' fees and costs, or even suspend their drivers license. In extreme cases, the court can also Order up to six months in jail (provided they include a condition for release, such as fines or otherwise complying with the original Order).
Child Support Penalties
If a parent is found in contempt for failing to pay child support payments most often the Court will Order that parent to pay a large lump sum toward past-due payments, they may order a monthly increase to their basic support amount to cover past due payments, and they may also assess fines, court costs, and legal fees paid by the other party.
The state is authorized to seize the an individual's financial assets like their bank accounts, lottery winnings (more than $2,500), federal or state tax refunds, or place liens against their property, anytime past due support is owed.
The state can also suspend licenses, like their driver's license or even hunting licenses.
Missing Alimony Payments
Pennsylvania courts can enforce alimony payments using several methods. They could garnish up to half of your spouse's wages, seize their property, require collateral to enforce payments, collect rent or profit from real estate earnings, or award you interest for missed payments.
Contempt proceedings for violating the various family court Orders are largely similar. If you believe your ex-partner isn't meeting their obligations, document the violations and prepare to file a petition to ask the court to enforce those Orders.
You'll likely need to deliver a copy of the petition to your ex, then appear for a hearing in front of a judge to argue your case. You'll have the opportunity to present evidence of contempt. That could be texts, emails, bank records, cancelled checks, etc. A family law attorney can help you prepare for a contempt hearing and present your case to help right this wrong.
Contact Gibson Family Law, PLLC for Help with Contempt
Going back to court after receiving orders following a divorce may seem overkill, but having the legal representation you need to clear the air in your situation is a must. Gibson Family Law, PLLC, has the experience you need and the compassion to ensure you're heard.
Attorney Susan Gibson will listen to your story and advise you on your best course of action. She has the experience to back you up in court, but she's prepared to help you before that becomes a necessity.
If you feel the court Orders aren't being followed, you should call Susan. She has 15 years of family law experience working on cases like yours. Contact her today (267) 337-6524.