A contempt action is an action to enforce an existing court order.  In other words, when one party does not comply with what has been ordered by the court, the other party asks the court to enforce the existing order and to punish the noncomplying party.   To establish contempt, the court must find (1) that the court order was clear and unequivocal and (2) that the party being charged with contempt has violated it willfully.  The documents submitted to the court to initiate the contempt (complaint for contempt and any attachments and affidavits) may prove to be especially important because specific wording of the order or judgment that was violated must be brought to the attention of the court.

Change of Circumstances
When individual’s situations change in any significant way, it is important to make sure that the terms of a child custody, divorce, or any other type of custody order is maintained in order to make sure that the individual’s to consider satisfy all listed requirements of the order.

Consequences of Contempt Charges
If a court finds that an individual has willfully violated a clear order or judgment, the court can respond in several ways including garnishing wages, ordering the person found in contempt to cooperate with the court order or be incarcerated, or imposing a variety of fines including requiring the offending party to pay the other party’s attorney’s fees.

The Most Common Types of Contempt Cases
The most frequent type of contempt cases include individuals who have failed to do things like adequately pay court ordered support, continue to provide children or former spouse with health insurance, follow a child custody order, or obey the terms of a divorce decree or parenting plan.

Potential Defenses To A Contempt Allegation
There are several defenses that individuals can assert to contempt allegations. These defenses include claiming that the court order that was in question was not clear and that the violation of the court order was not willful but rather beyond the control of the individual.

Situations When Parties Should File Contempt Charges
Deciding whether to file a contempt court depends on how late the party is in responding to a court order, how much money has accumulated from court ordered payments, the importance of whether the other party obeys the court order, the risk of financial or emotional harm posed by the other party failing to obey the court order.

Resources for Contempt

Massachusetts Legislature Website

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