Contempt of Court | Petition for Contempt
In Tennessee family law cases, contempt of court is often the most common method a court may use to enforce its orders. First, one party must bring the violation of a court order to the attention of the Court. This is done by filing a Petition for Contempt. This pleading tells the court that an order existed and was willfully violated. One common example is the failure to pay child support. Most petitions ask the court to compel the violator to follow the order or risk being sentenced to jail.
There are two types of contempt–civil contempt and criminal contempt. In addition, contempt can be either direct (occurs in the judge’s presence and disrupts court’ proceedings) or indirect (occurs outside the immediate presence of the judge). Civil Contempt occurs when a person refuses to obey a court order. Civil contempt can be “purged” by complying with the court order. A fine, confinement in jail, or both can be imposed for civil contempt. The sanctions are meant to coerce compliance with the court’s order rather than to punish the person. If jailed, the person will be released from jail when he/she complies with court order. The failure to comply with an injunction (a court order directing a person to do or not do a certain act) can be civil contempt.
Criminal Contempt Criminal contempt involves conduct that hinders or obstructs justice. Examples of criminal contempt include disobeying a subpoena to produce evidence or willfully and deliberately refusing to pay child support or alimony. With criminal contempt, the act of contempt has been completed and the contempt cannot be “purged.” The punishment is imposed to vindicate the court’s authority. Criminal contempt is punishable by a fine, jail, or both.
Refusing to pay child support, alimony or other court-ordered expenses can often lead to a Petition for Contempt. Not abiding by any court-ordered agreement related to support, custody or the payment of bills and other expenses carries severe penalties. It can result in civil and criminal contempt charges and, ultimately, incarceration.