Understand contempt actions and how contempt of court can affect you during your divorce.
Once the Family Court has issued an Order (whether Temporary or Final) in a case, the parties to the action are bound by its terms. If either party violates the terms of a Family Court Order, they risk being found in contempt of court.
Contempt actions can involve situations such as denial of visitation; failure to pay child support and/or alimony; failure to pay a mortgage; or exposing a child to a paramour or other improper situation. This list is far from exhaustive as Family Court Orders can, and typically do, address many family-specific issues.
An action for contempt of court in Family Court in South Carolina is called a Rule to Show Cause. These should be considered when violations of an Order occur, because letting them go unchecked will likely lead to continued or increased misconduct. For example, a parent who wrongfully denies visitation to the other parent or an ex-spouse who fails to make required support payments without penalty will likely continue that behavior.
In order to maximize your chances of success in any contempt action, you will need to have proof of the alleged violations of the Order. For example, to prove a denial of visitation, you might consider taking a witness with you to the visitation exchange site at the designated time to confirm that the child was not produced for your visitation period.
However, another factor to be considered by the Court in any contempt action is whether the contempt, once proven, was “willful” or “not willful”. This determination can impact what the Judge ultimately decides to do in the case. Willful contempt of court refers to situations in which someone intentionally violates the terms of an Order, or put another way, the person had the ability to comply but did not do so.
On the other hand, if the Court finds the party was unable to avoid the contempt due to circumstances beyond his or her control, it may find that the contempt was “not willful” and only require remedial measures to be taken to ensure the Order will be followed in the future. In such cases, the Court usually does not impose a penalty or punishment against the offender.
When “willful contempt of court” is found by the Court, it is important to note that even though the action is in Family Court, these violations can carry some tough penalties. There are no “sentencing guidelines” in Family Court, and the punishments imposed for contempt issues can vary from Judge to Judge and case to case. However, the maximum sentence that can be imposed for a willful violation of a Court Order is (a) one year in jail, (b) $1,500 fine, (c) 300 hours of community service, or (d) any combination of the above.
Contact our office at (864) 598-9172 or SCFamilyLaw@offitkurman.com to schedule an initial consultation.
ABOUT J. BENJAMIN STEVENS
Ben.Stevens@offitkurman.com | 864.598.9172
Aggressive, creative, and compassionate are words Ben Stevens' colleagues freely use to describe him as a divorce and family law attorney. Mr. Stevens is a Fellow in the prestigious American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, the International Academy of Family Lawyers, and is a Board Certified Family Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy. He is one of only two attorneys in South Carolina with those simultaneous distinctions. He has held numerous leadership positions in the AAML, and he currently serves as one of its National Vice Presidents. Mr. Stevens has a statewide practice and regularly appears all across South Carolina. His practice is focused on complex divorce and child custody cases.
ABOUT OFFIT KURMAN
Offit Kurman, one of the fastest-growing, full-service law firms in the United States, serves dynamic businesses, individuals and families. With 15 offices and nearly 250 lawyers who counsel clients across more than 30 areas of practice, Offit Kurman helps maximize and protect business value and personal wealth by providing innovative and entrepreneurial counsel that focuses on clients’ business objectives, interests and goals. The firm is distinguished by the quality, breadth and global reach of its legal services and a unique operational structure that encourages a culture of collaboration. For more information, visit www.offitkurman.com.
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