What is Considered Contempt in a Divorce?

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What is Considered Contempt in a Divorce?
Written By: Josh Lowell ~ 10/30/2023


In family law, divorce cases can sometimes become complicated and contentious. One aspect that often arises in such situations is the issue of contempt. Contempt in a divorce context can be broad but often refers to an intentional disobedience of court orders. This can encompass various aspects but is particularly relevant when it comes to custody and financial matters.

Contempt in a Divorce: An Overview

Contempt of court occurs when an individual willfully disobeys a court order, thereby undermining the authority of the court. In the context of a divorce, this means that either party may be held in contempt if they intentionally and knowingly violate court-issued orders. Contempt can be civil or criminal, with civil contempt being the most common in family law cases, as it's intended to compel compliance rather than to punish.

Contempt in Custody Cases

Contempt often is relevant when one parent intentionally refuses to comply with court orders related to child custody and visitation. This can include:

  • Refusal to Allow Proper Child Custody Visitation: If one parent is awarded visitation rights but the custodial parent intentionally denies visitation without a valid reason, this may constitute contempt of court.

  • Interference with the Parent-Child Relationship: Contempt can also occur when one parent deliberately interferes with the other parent's access to the child. This might include badmouthing the other parent, undermining their authority, or manipulating the child against the other parent.

Contempt in Financial Support Matters

Another common area where contempt can arise during a divorce is related child support. In Washington, failing to comply with court orders regarding child support payments can result in a contempt if the non-paying party is found to be intentionally disobeying the court order.

Intentional Behavior Requirement

It's crucial to emphasize that contempt in divorce cases typically requires proof of intentional behavior. In other words, the party accused of contempt must have knowingly and willingly violated a court order. Mere misunderstandings, confusion, or situations beyond the party's control are often not considered contemptuous. However, this decision is in the Court’s full discretion.

Remedies for Contempt

When a court determines that contempt has occurred, there are various remedies available to address the situation. In most cases, the remedies for contempt in a divorce case are designed to compel compliance and may include:

  • Monetary Sanctions: The court may impose monetary penalties, which can include fines or the award of attorney's fees to the aggrieved party to compensate for the costs incurred in addressing the contempt.

  • Parenting Make-up Time: In custody cases, if one parent has been denied their court-ordered visitation time, the court may order "make-up" time to compensate for the time lost due to contemptuous behavior.

  • Modification of Orders: In some cases, the court may modify existing custody or support orders to better suit the child's best interests or to account for changed circumstances.

Contempt in a divorce is a serious matter that involves the intentional disobedience of court orders, and it can significantly impact the outcomes of custody and financial matters. To successfully prove contempt, it is essential to demonstrate that the violation was willful and deliberate. If you believe that you are facing contemptuous behavior from your former spouse or have been accused of contempt yourself, it is advisable to consult with an experienced family law attorney in Washington who can guide you through the legal process and help protect your rights and interests. Call the law offices of Magnuson Lowell PS for a free case evaluation.

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