Contempt of Court in the Ohio Family Court System
If you are involved in a divorce, child custody dispute, or child support case, you likely have a court order describing what you and your ex must do concerning your legal matter.
Obeying court orders is not optional, and if you or your ex fail to do what the order says, then there may be consequences. But enforcing a court order can be difficult, and there may be valid legal defenses as to why it was not complied with.
The lawyers at Joslyn Law Firm are experts at interpreting and enforcing court orders of all types. We know how frustrating it can be to go through the court process, and secure a fair and valid court order, only to have the other party refuse to abide by it.
We also recognize that sometimes it may be impractical or even impossible to follow an order that creates hardship.
Ohio Contempt Attorney
Whether you are enforcing a court order or defending against a contempt charge, Joslyn Law Firm is here to guide you every step of the way and will use every available resource to secure an outcome that is fair and favorable.
Call us today at (614) 420-2424 or submit your information online, and one of our lawyers will contact you for a free consultation. We have experience handling family law matters in Union, Delaware, Licking, Fairfield, Pickaway, Madison, and Franklin counties.
- Contempt Defined
- Enforcing a Court Order – Examples of Contempt of a Court Order
- Filing for Contempt
- Contempt Hearings
- Consequences of Failing to Comply with a Court Order
- Defenses to Contempt of a Court Order
- Experienced Contempt Attorneys
- Frequently Asked Questions
A court order is a legal document that describes what one or both parties must do concerning a particular legal matter.
Court orders are signed by judges, which makes them official and enforceable by law. This means that a custody order signed by a judge can be brought to the police and enforced on the spot.
A court order can also direct a financial institution to take money from a person’s bank account. But sometimes, some people choose not to follow court orders, and it is necessary to file a legal action known as contempt to enforce them.
When a court order directs a person to do something, and that person does not, they may be found in contempt of court. Being found in contempt can result in fines, sanctions, and even jail time.
Court orders may also order a person not to do something. This could be a parent being ordered not to disparage the other parent in front of their child. In that scenario, if it can be shown that the parent intentionally disparaged the other parent, then they may be found in contempt.
Enforcing a Court Order – Examples of Contempt of a Court Order
In family law matters, there are several ways in which someone can be in contempt of a court order.
These examples include one party being ordered to do something by the court and refusing or failing to do so.
Indeed, some of the critical requirements to be found in contempt of a court order include proving that the person violating the order was aware of the court order, was able to follow the order, and failed to comply.
A few common examples of contempt are:
Failure to Pay Court-Ordered Child Support
A child support order directs one parent to pay the other for the financial support of their child.
Child support is usually based on income, so only a person found by the court to have the ability to pay will be ordered to pay support. You can be found in contempt for failure to pay child support only if you can pay and willfully decide not to.
Failure to Pay Court-Ordered Spousal Support
Spousal support is a payment from one spouse to another during or after the divorce.
Spousal support is designed to provide one with the financial support necessary to maintain a particular lifestyle or to allow them the time necessary to become financially independent.
Refusal to pay spousal support can be grounds for a finding of contempt. Like contempt of child support, to be found in contempt of a spousal support order, it must be shown that the spouse responsible for paying the support had the current ability to pay.
Failure to Comply With a Child Custody Order
Child custody orders describe the rights and responsibilities of parents who do not reside together concerning their children.
Things like where the child will live, visitation with the other parent, and which parent gets to decide about the child’s education and medical need are usually found in a child custody order.
Suppose a custody order grants one parent weekend visitation rights, and the other parent refuses to make the child available for that visit. In that case, the parent withholding the child may be in contempt of the custody order.
Filing for Contempt
It is essential to understand that when trying to enforce a court order, the party looking to enforce the order must petition the court to find the other party in contempt.
This can be done by filing the appropriate petition with the correct court. When dealing with contempt of a custody or child support order, the petition will likely need to be filed in the court that initially issued the order.
Filing for contempt will also require that the person violating the order be served with notice and a copy of the petition.
For instance, if your ex refuses to pay court-ordered child support, and you would like to enforce the order, you must provide them with a copy of the contempt petition, and they must be notified in advance of the court date where the judge will rule on the petition.
Failing to provide your ex with the petition or neglecting to give your ex advance notice of the contempt hearing may cause your petition to be dismissed or delayed.
Once the contempt petition is filed, a court date will be set where a judge will consider evidence and arguments and decide whether the person who failed to comply with the order will be found in contempt.
It may not be enough just to show that the order was not followed; you may also have to show that the person who failed to comply did so intentionally. This can be difficult to prove because it most likely will require admission or undeniable proof of the ability to follow the order.
For cases like failure to pay support, that proof can be in bank statements or other financial records.
If you have been accused of contempt, you will have an opportunity to show that you have complied with the order or why you could not do so. It is important to remember that if you receive notice of contempt of a court order hearing and you decide not to attend, then a decision may be made without you, and you will not have an opportunity to present a defense.
If you intentionally ignore your court date, you may not have any grounds to appeal the court’s finding.
Once the judge hears all the evidence, argument, and possible defenses, a decision will be made. Being found in contempt is serious and could significantly impact your custody rights, among other consequences.
Consequences of Failing to Comply with a Court Order
Purposefully ignoring a court order or intentionally refusing to comply with one can have serious consequences. Aside from being dragged back into court, additional penalties could significantly affect your life in various ways.
Some of the consequences of failing to comply with a court order are:
- Loss of driver’s license
- Fines and sanctions
- Loss of custody rights
- Jail time
- Loss of professional licenses
- Seizure of bank accounts
- Loss of passport
- Damage to your credit
- Additional steps to enforce compliance
The law in Ohio gives judges much power to enforce court orders. They have the ability not only to order the above-listed sanctions but may also order additional penalties designed to force compliance.
Defenses to Contempt of a Court Order
Just because an order wasn’t followed does not mean the person who did not comply with it is guilty of contempt. There are a few legal defenses that can be used to fight a contempt charge.
Some of those defenses are:
Unaware of the Court Order
To be found guilty of contempt, it must be proven that the person who did not follow the court order was aware of it.
For instance, a child support order entered without the knowledge of the person ordered to pay cannot be found guilty of contempt if they were never made aware of the child support order.
This scenario can happen when default child support orders are entered. A default child support order is typically entered when the party responsible for paying support did not attend the hearing where the support order was established.
Unable to Follow the Court Order
Circumstances may exist where a person cannot follow a court order. Some examples may include an emergency or a drastic change in circumstances.
Still, to use this defense, the person who did not follow the order will likely have to present evidence supporting their claim that they could not follow the court order.
For instance, a parent may not be able to follow a custody order that requires that they drop off their child at the other parent’s home at a specific time if they experience a medical emergency that requires them to go to the hospital.
Court Order Was Unclear
Following a court order can be challenging if it is not worded in a way that is easily understood.
In general, court orders should be written in a way that leaves no doubt concerning what the parties are required to do. If there is a missing clause or a term that could be interpreted in more than one way, then that may be a defense to a contempt charge.
Lack of Intention or Willfulness
To be found in contempt of an order, it must be shown that the person knew of the order, knew what it required, could comply, and failed to do so.
In other words, failing to follow a court order accidentally or through a reasonable mistake may not be considered contempt. An example would be a parent forgetting to pick up their child at a designated drop-off point.
Experienced Contempt Attorneys
At Joslyn Law Firm, we know what it takes to enforce a court order. We understand that you may depend on child support to make ends meet, and you cherish the time you spend with your children.
When the court orders that dictate terms of family law matters are not followed, you are robbed of what is rightfully yours. We also recognize that unexpected things may make it impossible for you to follow a well-intentioned court order.
So, whether you want an order enforced or are defending against a contempt charge, we are here to give you the guidance and counsel that has made us one of the premier law firms in Ohio.
Call us today at (614) 420-2424 or submit your information online, and our contempt proceedings lawyer will contact you for a free consultation.
We have experience handling civil contempt and criminal contempt matters in Ohio and proudly serve Union, Delaware, Licking, Fairfield, Pickaway, Madison, and Franklin counties.
Frequently Asked Questions
My Child’s Other Parent Refuses to Follow the Custody Order – What Can I Do?
If you have a valid custody order and your child’s other parent refuses to honor it, you can petition the court to find them in contempt.
You will likely need evidence of their refusal to follow the court order. This can be text messages, witness testimony, and photos or video evidence. You must show that the order was not followed and that the other parent could comply.
If the contempt petition is successful, the other parent may be forced to pay fines, receive a reduction in parenting time, or other sanctions the court deems appropriate.
I Am Behind on My Child Support. Am I Guilty of Contempt?
Maybe. Whether you will be found guilty of contempt depends on why you are not paying your child support.
If you can show that you had a drastic change in your income that caused you to be financially unable to pay the child support order, you may have a defense against a finding of contempt.
On the other hand, if you simply did not take the support order seriously and decided to spend your money elsewhere, you may be found in contempt.
Only an experienced family law attorney can look at your case’s circumstances and give an informed opinion on the chances of a finding of contempt.
I Haven’t Seen My Kids in Years. Can I File for Contempt to Get Custody?
It is essential to understand that a contempt hearing is not a substitute for a custody proceeding.
This means that to file for contempt of a custody order, there must already be a custody order. If you are unsure if there is a valid custody order, then it is best to contact a family law attorney who can check with the court to see if one exists.
If there is one, and the other parent withholds your kids from you, you may be able to file for contempt and enforce your custody rights. If there is no custody order, then you must file for custody.
Are There Any Alternatives to Enforcing an Order Outside of Filing for Contempt?
Yes. In certain situations, you may be able to contact the police to enforce a custody order if the other parent refuses to honor it.
This option may not always be available as the police may simply advise you to file for contempt.
You may enforce an unpaid child support order by contacting your local domestic relations department. Some of these departments have enforcement units that will issue wage attachments, suspend a driver’s license and freeze bank accounts to enforce a support order.
What Our Clients Say
Read this 5-star Google review below regarding a complex child custody case in Columbus OH
“I have a complex custody case, and had no idea where to start. I started researching family law attorneys in Columbus and found Joslyn Law Firm. I spoke with Ashley Dollins and after listening to my entire story she gave me very good advice on what I need to do. She was so kind and patient and I am very grateful she is the first person I spoke with regarding getting to see my daughter again. It is clear she is very knowledgeable regarding family law cases, especially a highly complicated case as mine.”
By: Matthew Neiman
Rating: 5/5 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
September 22, 2021
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This page was last updated by Brian Joslyn