When a court issues an order during the divorce proceedings or after the divorce is finalized, it is legally binding. What this means is that whomever the order is focused on, they must abide by all conditions that are included in said order. If this person intentionally disobeys the order, they can be penalized and punished by the court, otherwise known as being “held in contempt”.

Contempt, in the simplest terms, is the result of a violation of a court order, and depending on the order and the violation, the violator may face either/both civil and criminal penalties. The purpose of a court issuing a penalty such as contempt is to persuade the violating party to comply with the issued order, not as a punishment.

Although the legal definition for being held in contempt is the result of actions committed within the courtroom, such as being disrespectful to the judge or causing a disturbance during the trial. However, this is not always the case, and you can be held in contempt for actions committed outside of the courtroom, such as not paying child support or alimony that the court ordered you to pay, or not abiding by a court-approved visitation agreement (when kids are involved), or not following a court-ordered asset distribution (settlements).

In order for a court to find someone in contempt, three tests must be passed in order to prove intent of disobeying a court order. The accuser is burdened with proving that the violating party was aware that the order existed, had the ability to follow the said order but decided not to follow the conditions of the order, and finally that the accused party does not have a valid cause or excuse for violating the order.

If you are found in contempt, you may face both civil and criminal penalties. These include but are not limited to fines, paying for the opposing party’s attorney fees, compensatory custody time, or even a jail sentence.

The consequences range in severity based on the order that was violated, and the extent that it was disregarded or not followed. The court will often give the offending party a chance to make up for their actions before issuing a punishment.