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What Qualifies for Contempt of Court in a Custody Case?

Published in Family Law on June 12, 2017.

Family Law Attorney Helping Families with Custody Issues in Indianapolis

Family law book and gavelIn a family law case, one side might refuse or fail to follow the terms created by your court order or the completed divorce settlement.

When this happens, it is frustrating for you and confusing. After all, you went through the process (and cost) to create a divorce settlement or custody arrangement, and now your ex is ignoring these court orders.

The courts do have resolutions for these issues. When one party fails without cause to follow court orders, they can be found in contempt. Contempt orders come in many forms, and for many reasons. Therefore, you must understand what qualifies for contempt, the issues that might bring up a contempt request, and so forth.

What is a Contempt of Court?

Contempt is a severe remedy and one that should only be used when necessary. It is not the best or most efficient solution either. Therefore, it is best that you consult with a family law attorney if you feel your ex or child’s parent is not complying with custody orders.

A judge will not find another parent in contempt unless you have evidence establishing a knowing violation of court orders.

Some examples that might qualify for a contempt of court include:

  • Refusing the other parent his or her court-ordered parenting time. In your custody paperwork, you have a parenting time plan in place. The parenting time ensures that the non-custodial parent receives a set amount of time with the child. If you refuse to give the non-custodial parent his or her court-ordered time, you could be found in contempt. Alternatively, if you are the non-custodial parent and the custodial parent refuses or consistently takes away your time, you might have a viable contempt request too.
  • Not returning the child to the custodial parent. When the non-custodial parent takes his or her time with the children, they are required to return the child(ren) to the custodial parent. If they refuse, they may be in contempt.
  • One parent must enforce child support from the other. When an obligated parent refuses to pay child support obligations, the courts will intervene at the request of the paid parent and act to enforce payment. Also, the non-paying parent may be held in contempt if he or she outright refuses to pay without legitimate reasons.
  • Failure to comply with a restraining order. In certain child custody cases, a restraining order might be in place to protect children from an abusive parent. If that parent fails to comply with the requirements of his or her restraining order, they might be held in contempt of court.  This is different than violation of a protective order which may result in criminal charges under Indiana’s Invasion of Privacy statutes.

What Happens if the Court Finds Contempt?

The purpose of a contempt order is to compel the other party to comply with the original court order. The judge may issue a punishment to the non-compliant parent, such as:

  • Ordering future compliance with a hearing date.
  • Order  a suspended jail sentence with a future compliance hearing date.
  • Order the payment of reasonable attorney’s fees for forcing compliance
  • Order repayment of or reimbursement for costs incurred by the complaining party.

When a parent violates a parenting plan, the judge may also issue a punishment, such as:

  • Requiring the non-compliant parent to make up the time with the children.
  • Award attorney’s fees to the parent who requested a contempt order.
  • Order a fine against the non-compliant parent.
  • Order a suspended jail sentence.

The Show Cause Hearing

To hold one parent in contempt, you must go before a judge and prove that contempt applies. This is done through a show cause hearing. The hearing is a scheduled appointment with a judge that allows you to request relief from the court. During your hearing, you will state your case, present evidence, and the court will determine if you have cause for contempt.

To prove contempt in your show cause hearing you must:

  • Show the existing court order;
  • Prove that the other party knows about the court order;
  • Present evidence of a violation of the order;
  • Give the other parent notice of your intent to show cause;
  • Prove the parent is violating the order knows they are doing so intentionally.

Is Contempt of Court the Right Choice for Your Custody Issue?

Contempt orders are serious, so you want to ensure you are requesting contempt during the right instance. Other times, having your family law attorney get involved is enough to compel the other party into compliance. Sometimes, your attorney might feel that contempt of court is the only way to force the parent to comply with the parenting order.

Before you file your motion to show cause, however, your attorney will go through several key steps:

  1. Ensure the order is in effect. Your custody order must still be valid. Some orders expire at a certain time, and you cannot hold the other party responsible for violations that occurred years ago — or years after an order is no longer in effect. Child support, however, can be enforced even after a child becomes emancipated if there is a balance owed.
  2. Ensure the other party is aware of the court order. The other party must know about the court order to be in violation of that court order legally. Therefore, the other parent must have been served a copy, signed the order themselves, or was present when the judge signed the final order.
  3. Determine what responsibilities you must meet. Before you can request a contempt order from the court, you have responsibilities. For example, the custodial parent could withhold parenting time while you completed a court-ordered drug rehabilitation program if the courts have stated that your parenting times are on hold until completion of the program. The other parent is not in contempt if you have not completed the program, but demand to see your children. Instead, you must ensure you have followed all responsibilities.
  4. How clear is the order? Poorly written custody orders can lead to confusion. Some orders contradict one another, repeat, or blatantly ignore the statute. If the order is unclear, it is hard to hold a non-compliant parent in contempt. Instead, you and your ex-spouse need to clarify and modify to avoid further confusion.

Do You Have a Non-Compliant Parent? Talk to a Family Law Attorney

If you feel that the non-custodial or custodial parent in your arrangement is not complying with your court order, speak with a family law attorney from Eskew Law.

At Eskew Law, we understand how frustrating it is to have a court order and another parent ignore it. We will help you hold that parent accountable and enforce your court order as you and the courts intended.

Call us now at 317-974-0177 to schedule a no-obligation consultation or request your appointment online.

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