A party is in contempt of a Court’s Order if he or she willfully disobeys the Order. A party can seek a Citation of Contempt of both temporary and final Orders. The most common types of contempt actions in family law cases deal with failure to pay child support or interfering with the other parent’s parenting time. Contempt actions can also be brought for failure to pay alimony, failure to pay a sum awarded pursuant to equitable division of property, failure to deliver property awarded to the other party, failure to pay attorney’s fees as ordered, and any other violation of a Court’s Order.
Contempt of Child Support Provisions
A parent can be found in contempt if he or she fails to pay child support to the other parent, or other payments related to the support of the child that have been ordered by the Court, such as maintaining health insurance for the child or paying out-of-pocket medical costs or child care. It is generally not a defense that a parent felt he or she was unable to afford the payments—even if that parent is unemployed. If a parent cannot afford the payments, he or she can seek a modification of child support but cannot self-help by simply stopping or reducing the amount of payments. Child support obligations cannot be modified as part of a contempt action, but can be modified in a separate modification action. As part of the contempt action, the Court will also determine the amount of arrears or back payments that the parent owes.
A Court can find the parent who is failing to pay in contempt and order him or her to comply with the Court’s Order going forward. To help ensure compliance, the Court may issue an Income Deduction Order that provides for ongoing child support payments and arrears payments to be automatically deducted from the paying parent’s paycheck. The Court can order the parent in contempt to pay a purge amount—a lump sum portion of the arrears usually due in a short time frame—and make ongoing payments on a set schedule until the arrears are paid off. The Court can order the suspension of a nonpaying parent’s driver’s license, business license, professional license, or other license until payment has been made. The Court can also hold the nonpaying parent in jail, often until he or she purges the contempt by paying the purge amount. In considering these remedies, the Court tries to strike a balance between compelling payment of child support and not impairing the obligated parent’s ability to work and thus the parent’s ability to pay child support, so harsher enforcement measures are often reserved for parents who have repeatedly failed to pay.
Contempt of Parenting Time Provisions
If one parent withholds the children during the other parent’s scheduled time, is frequently late to custody exchanges, or otherwise interferes with the other parent’s time with the children, that parent can be found in contempt. Contempt actions involving interference with parenting time can sometimes be difficult to prove since they often rely on only the parties’ testimony. An attorney can help you prepare the best case possible and discuss future best practices if interference with parenting time is an issue in your case.
In addition to finding the violating parent in contempt and ordering him or her to comply with the Court’s Order going forward, the Court has other remedies. The Court may order that the parent whose time was interfered with receive make-up parenting time. The Court can also modify the parenting time schedule or the location or transportation provisions for custody exchanges to avoid issues in the future. In more extreme cases, the Court may order the violating parent to pay a fine or be incarcerated until he or she complies with the Order. Although a Georgia Court can order a change in parenting time, it cannot order a change in the custodial parent as part of a contempt action. If a parent wants to seek a change in custody, he or she can bring a modification of custody action.
Reimbursement of Fees in a Contempt Action
The Court frequently awards attorneys’ fees and costs in a prevailing contempt action to the party who brought the contempt action, especially if the contempt action was necessary to recover money that one party owed the other party. An award of attorney’s fees and costs is not guaranteed in a contempt action, and the Court may choose to award a partial amount. Additionally, an award of fees against a party who has a history of not paying his or her obligations can be difficult to collect, and may itself lead to another contempt later on.
Seeking Legal Help
The Ruthenebrg-Marshall Law Firm can help you pursue or defend against a contempt action. You can schedule a Legal Clarity Session by calling 678-435-9069 or contacting us here.