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What is contempt, and how does it work in a family law matter?

If you’ve gone through a divorce with input from a Massachusetts family law judge, you undoubtedly appreciate the powers wielded by a court and understand why issued rulings are expected to be complied with.

Courts are austere bodies, with judges clearly being cloaked in authority.

Put another way: Any individual who is party to a family law arrangement and thereafter materially violates the specifics of a court order approving it can expect to quickly interact with an irritated judge.

And that can bring unpleasant consequences resulting from a judicial finding of contempt. As we note on our website at the Wellesley Law Offices of Lisa A. Ruggieri, P.C., that is “the willful violation of a court order, and individuals who disregard court orders can face punishment.”

Contempt can potentially arise with a variety of family law (usually divorce-related) matters, but is most often connected with child custody concerns and/or alleged shortcomings concerning support payments.

Contempt is a heavy judicial hammer, and we note that, “because [it] is severe, it may not be the appropriate remedy in every situation.”

Its mere threat, though, can often prompt speedy and complete compliance from an otherwise uncooperative ex-spouse or partner, given that the alternative to full performance can be fines and, even in some instances, jail time.

Simply alleging contempt will not move a Massachusetts court to act. It is therefore key for any individual with serious family law-related concerns to work with proven legal counsel in confirming an existing court order and showing that the other party has notice of it and is willfully violating it.

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