Going through a divorce, custody, or post-divorce suit is never easy. Family law is a very personal type of litigation, as it delves into the daily, personal decisions you make about your children, your finances, and your property. As a result, there are times when the litigants will strongly disagree about the way the court handles these matters both during and after the case. In these types of cases, it is important to understand how the court may use its contempt power.
A court in a family law case may find one litigant is in contempt of court when he or she willfully disobeys an existing court order. There are many elements here to note. First, there must actually be a court order for a spouse or parent to be in contempt. In other words, acting against a Minnesota statute will not be grounds to seek a contempt order. Next, the party to the action must willfully disobey the order. For example, if a party has not been served with a copy of an emergency order for protection, then he or she would not be in contempt for continuing to communicate with the victim. Another common example is where a party has failed to pay child support because a sudden medical emergency has prevented him or her from earning income recently.
A court in a family law case is most likely to use its contempt power when the offending parent has a history of acting against court orders. One common example is when a parent has full knowledge of the provisions of the custody and parenting time order, but fails to abide by the provisions. This is usually seen when they fail to return the child at the conclusion of his or her parenting time. Another common reason the parent may be found in contempt is by making important parental decisions without consulting with or over the objection of a parent who is named joint legal custodian. There is generally no excuse for these types of repeated and flagrant refusal to abide by the court order, so a judge may find a parent in contempt. Refusal to pay support, either spousal support or child support, is another time that the court may find that the litigant is in contempt if it is clear that the party has the resources to make the payment, but simply declines to do so.