The Consequences of Ignoring a Court Order
When a couple goes through a divorce, both spouses typically assume ongoing obligations under a Court order or private settlement agreement, especially when child custody issues and support are a concern. Reconciling oneself to years of mandatory obligations is rarely easy but is necessary to avoid unpleasant legal consequences. However, the law will not support or ignore individuals who attempt to get out of legally enforceable obligations that commonly are most damaging to the needs of the child and not the former spouse.
Courts have a number of ways to compel action from an individual trying to shirk his or her responsibilities, and the most powerful one is holding someone in civil contempt of Court. While this is principally used as a last resort when other collection and compliance methods have failed (i.e. wage garnishment, property liens, suspension of licenses, etc.), this option is an effective measure to spur action.
What is Contempt?
Typically, when the phrase “contempt of Court” comes up, people associate the phrase with a Judge ordering someone to jail for insulting the Court. This understanding is accurate, as Judges can issue direct contempt orders for misconduct that occurs inside the courtroom, and Judges are permitted to impose punishment immediately without the need for notice or a hearing.
However, more common are indirect contempt orders that relate to prohibited conduct outside the Judge’s presence and require notice, hearing, and counsel before a final determination is made. Further, civil contempt is the type most often used in Family Court cases and is imposed to compel certain actions such as paying support or adhering to a parenting plan. Criminal contempt, on the other hand, is punishment for a previous act and is less common in family court matters.
Asking a Court to Impose Contempt
When a person fails to follow a Court order, and the affected party wants to request the Court to compel this individual to take specified actions, then he or she must file a Rule to Show Cause petition to bring the individual’s conduct to the Court’s attention. Evidence that a Court order was violated must also be gathered and presented to the Judge, which the Court uses to decide if a violation occurred. If so, the accused party must be served with a copy of the petition and a Court date scheduled to give him or her an opportunity to explain why a violation did not occur, or that noncompliance was not willful or intentional.
Petitions for contempt proceedings are frequently settled by an agreement between the parties, with the party in violation agreeing to fix the violation and pay attorney’s fees and other costs. However, absent an agreement, the Court can require that the violation be remedied to avoid jail time, or to send the person directly to incarceration. The facts of each case will dictate how the Court chooses to respond.
Speak with an Illinois Family Law Attorney
Dealing with the fallout of divorce is not easy; however, court orders must be followed, regardless of personal feelings on the matter. If you are struggling to get an ex-spouse to adhere to the terms of a settlement or Court-issued decree, talk to skilled Palatine family law lawyer Nicholas W. Richardson, P.C. to hear possible solutions. He has years of experience helping families resolve complicated and sensitive issues, and can assess the legal options in your case. Contact the office for a free initial consultation.