Helping Families Take The Next Step Toward A New Beginning

What is contempt and what is it used for?

On Behalf of | Dec 14, 2023 | Family Law

When you get divorced, it can feel like winding down one part of your life story and starting over. However, afterward there are often court orders that keep you involved in each other’s lives, like child support and spousal support orders.

Unfortunately, people sometimes need a court’s help to enforce these orders. They can do this by asking the court to find their ex in contempt of court.


Broadly, contempt can be defined as the failure to obey a judge’s order or interference with court proceedings. The purpose behind filing a contempt case with the courts could be enforcement of the court’s orders. It can be broken into civil contempt and criminal contempt.

Civil contempt

Civil contempt could be selected when a defendant is failing to obey court orders, but has the means to do so, and someone is asking for the courts to help order the party to comply. An example could be a parent who can pay child support, but is refusing. The bar for civil matters, like civil contempt, is a preponderance of evidence or more than half likely.

Criminal contempt

Criminal contempt could be selected when the other person party has committed some specific violation of the divorce orders, and you want a judge to remedy the violations. Enforcement mechanisms can be fines or even imprisonment. The bar for criminal contempt is like other criminal matters, beyond a reasonable doubt.

How do I ask the courts to enforce?

In a perfect world, a simple text or email would solve any divorce order issues you might have. But, courts realize that just because an order exists, it does not purely compel someone to follow it, and they have systems in place to enforce orders. You can use the state’s contempt packet to view an overview of the contempt process in the state. If you are on the side of being unable to make divorce payments, remember you can also seek modification.