The consequences of failing to obey court orders can be steep.
In divorces, child custody cases, and child support cases, one or both parties are ordered by the court to perform certain tasks, such as pay child support, provide health insurance for the children, facilitate visitation with the other parent, and so on. Often one or both parties fail to obey the court’s orders. When this happens, a contempt action is often the remedy for the failure.
When a party fails to obey a court order, that failure is either wilful or not wilful. In other words, the party either has the ability to obey the court’s order or not. If the court finds that the failure was wilful, and thus that the party does have the ability to obey the court’s order but simply chooses not to do so, the court is empowered to take certain actions to compel the party to obey the order. For example, the court may place a party who has refused to pay child support in jail until the party pays what is owed. This payment is called “purging” the contempt. Once the contempt is purged, the party is released.
However, a contempt action is not normally meant to just punish a person who has disobeyed a court order (although there are some exceptions in cases of “criminal contempt”). A contempt action is meant to compel performance. When a party lacks the ability to obey the court’s order, the court cannot appropriately punish the party for the party’s failure. Of course, the party claiming an inability to obey the court’s order bears a high burden of proof.
Parties on either side of a contempt action need the services of an attorney who is skilled in the area of contempt law.