Using Contempt Sanctions to Enforce Family Court Orders

As we discussed in a prior post on this blog, South Carolina family courts issue orders on a wide range of subjects to bring the judge’s decisions into effect. Even after the judge has spoken on a particular matter and issued orders which are legally binding on the parties, some people still refuse to do as they were instructed by the court. One of the most powerful methods of forcing parties to comply with court orders is requesting that the judge find the disobedient party in contempt of court.

What does it mean to be held in contempt of court?

Just as the name implies, being held in contempt of court essentially means that the court is not pleased with one of the parties before it. If the court finds a party in willful contempt, it means that the judge has determined that the person has not obeyed previously-issued orders and will now face consequences for their disobedience. You can seek that your ex-spouse or co-parent be held in contempt when they willfully fail to comply with any order issued by the court, such as orders governing your children’s visitation schedule, child support payments, or spousal support payments. South Carolina family court judges have a broad array of options when deciding what sanctions should apply to a party who was found to be in contempt. These include issuing fines, imposing mandatory community service, or in certain cases, even a jail sentence lasting up to one year. Courts may also impose a jail sentence but allow a person found in contempt to purge their sentence by payment of monies owed.  Attorney fees may also be awarded.

How to seek contempt sanctions

There are two forms of contempt in South Carolina court: direct and constructive. Direct contempt is the term used to describe acts occurring in or near the judge’s presence, which the judge may be able to witness for him or herself. For example, the judge may find a spouse in contempt who became physically violent or verbally abusive when before the judge during a divorce trial. The other party to the case may not need to take any action at all to have the abusive spouse held in contempt if the judge could witness the acts firsthand. However, if the bad acts occurred outside of the court room, which is usually the case, this would constitute constructive contempt. For example, constructive contempt would exist where a spouse refused to make spousal support payments.

When the disobedient behavior happens outside of the courtroom, proving to the judge that contempt sanctions should be imposed requires that the wronged party file what is known as a “Rule to Show Cause.” Rules to show cause must be accompanied by certain evidence and sworn affidavits. The judge will then hold a hearing where both parties can advocate for why the judge should or should not find the party in contempt. An attorney can assist you in seeking compliance with a court’s orders through contempt sanctions.

If you are planning to file for divorce in South Carolina, or need help enforcing an existing family court order, contact the compassionate and effective Spartanburg family law attorneys at The Cate Law Firm for assistance with your case, at 864-585-4226.

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