Penalties for Ignoring a Family Court Order (Contempt)

The family court has jurisdiction over the orders made in divorce and other family law cases. Many of these issues include child custody, visitation, spousal support, and domestic violence. In addition, the court also handles violations of family court orders. When someone violates a family court order, it may have an impact on the entire family. If one party ignores a court order or violates an order, the other party can file to hold the person in contempt of court.

Contempt of court may be either civil or criminal. There are penalties in place for each type of contempt of court. Civil contempt cases usually have sentences that include jail time. A person can be found in contempt either civilly or criminally, but not both for the same offense.

Civil Contempt of Court

The courts use civil contempt to try to force someone to comply with the original court order. For example, if you fail to pay court-ordered child support, it could be civil contempt of court. You failed to obey a civil court order. In general, the civil contempt of court penalties address only imprisonment. A person can be jailed for an indefinite length of time until he or she complies with the original order.

While the North Carolina contempt statute that covers civil contempt mentions only imprisonment as punishment, courts have ruled in previous cases that a person found to be in civil contempt could face both imprisonment and fines or sometimes fines instead of jail time.

There has been some confusion in the court’s interpretation of the contempt statute. This may be particularly true when a court order does not specify whether it is civil or criminal. Each case is different and there are often complications that make the case unique. It is therefore best to speak with an experienced Union County attorney to discuss your situation and determine your options.

Criminal Contempt of Court

A criminal contempt of court carries a fine of up to $500 and at least 30 days in jail. There are many different behaviors that are considered criminal contempt. For instance, willfully disruptive or disrespectful behavior in court is criminal contempt. Another example of criminal contempt is someone who refuses to comply with probation.

The punishments are increased for those who are found to be in criminal contempt of court for failure to testify or failure to pay child support. Criminal contempt for failure to pay child support carries a penalty of up to 120 days in jail.

When a behavior is criminal contempt, but it is not purposefully contemptuous or when there has been no prior court warning, it is not punishable, with two main exceptions. When a person improperly communicates with a juror or when a person publishes a recklessly incorrect report about court proceedings that is deemed to threaten the administration of justice, the person can be held in criminal contempt.

Violation of a Domestic Violence Protective Order

When a couple or family has a situation that escalates to abuse or fear of injury, the family court may order a domestic violence protective order, also known as a 50-B or a DVPO. A DVPO is issued in some instances when there are allegations of bodily injury that has already occurred or fear of bodily injury as well as other forms of abuse such as harassment or rape. A DVPO is granted against one party in the relationship. The order requires one party to stay away from the other.

If the person violates the DVPO, the other party may pursue civil or criminal action against the other through the court system. The violation can be reported to the police since it is against the law. If the police do not immediately take action by making an arrest, a request can be made for a criminal arrest warrant through the magistrate’s office. Civilly, the party can file a motion in civil court, called a motion for order to show cause in a DVPO. If a judge approves, the defendant will be held in civil contempt of court and will face potential fines and jail time.

The violation of a DPVO is a criminal Class A1 misdemeanor offense. Punishment for a Class 1 misdemeanor can include up to 150 days of incarceration, based on the person’s prior criminal record. If the violation is not the first, it will be a Class H felony, which comes with punishment of no less than 20 months and up to 33 months in prison.

If you or a loved one is facing a violation of a family court order and are in fear of contempt, it is best to seek the immediate help of a qualified Union County attorney. At Arnold & Smith, PLLC, we have the experience and expertise to handle even the most complicated family court matters. Contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC today for an initial consultation.