What is Contempt of Court?

In the event of a divorce, each party must follow certain court orders related to property division, child custody, child support, spousal support, and other terms. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for one or both parties to disobey the order – either by mistake or intentionally. 

Inadvertent violations are often easily resolved without going to court. On the other hand, when a person violates a court order deliberately or willfully without cause or justification, he/she could possibly be held in “contempt of court.” Contempt is considered a form of disturbance that impedes the functioning of the court. 

To be held in contempt of court, the court must prove all the following elements: 

  • The non-compliant party was aware of the court order 

  • The non-compliant party knowingly and willfully violated the order, despite having the ability to comply with the order 

  • The non-compliant party did not have any reasonable explanation as to why they disobeyed the order 

Contempt can be either direct or indirect. Direct contempt means noncompliance occurs in the presence of the court, while indirect contempt happens outside the presence of the court. The latter requires proof of willful disobedience to be found in contempt. 

There are two main types of contempt: civil and criminal. The purpose of civil contempt is to attempt to encourage compliance of a court order, while criminal contempt is designed to punish a non-compliant person. 

Civil Contempt Proceedings 

The person who allegedly failed to follow a court order must be notified of the civil contempt proceedings and given an opportunity to be heard. The party bringing the action to the court must prove the underlying court order was violated based on the “preponderance of the evidence.” 

If the filing party provides evidence of a court order violation, the burden shifts to the other party, who must show the court that either they did not violate the court order, or the violation was not willful and there was a valid reason for non-compliance. If a judge rules in favor of the filing party, the non-compliant party will be administered certain sanctions until he/she complies with the court order. 

Common sanctions for civil contempt include: 

  • Wage garnishment 

  • Court-ordered supervised visitation 

  • Updated parenting plan 

  • Fines 

  • Jail time (generally as a last resort) 

Criminal Contempt Proceedings 

As we mentioned before, criminal contempt is punitive in nature. The person who allegedly violated a court order has a right to counsel and must be proven guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” 

According to Illinois law, a person can be guilty of criminal contempt of court by intentionally impeding, embarrassing, or obstructing the court, degrading the court’s authority, or bringing the court into disrepute (i.e., damaging the court’s reputation). Criminal contempt is punishable by a maximum jail sentence of 180 days and/or a fine of up to $500. 

If your ex-spouse is intentionally disobeying a court order in Chicago, call the Law Offices of Jonathan Merel, P.C. at (312) 487-2795 or fill out our online contact form to request a phone consultation. Our legal team can provide you with compassionate and personalized legal services! 

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