When a court issues an order, it becomes legally binding and all parties must obey the order. If one party willfully disobeys the order, court penalties may be imposed. This is known as being held in contempt of court. Civil contempt actions are common in family law cases, as the court orders often involve custody, child support, property settlements, and other provisions.
Under Iowa law, in order for a party to be found in contempt, it must be proven that the party willfully violated the order. That is, the offending party knew the order existed, had the ability to comply with the order, and lacked just cause or excuse for violating the order.
The court generally gives the offending party an opportunity to cure the contempt. How an offending party can cure a contempt action depends on why he or she is being held in contempt.
- Custody. If the offending party is being held in contempt for withholding visitation from his or her ex-spouse, it can be difficult to fully cure the contempt. To cure the contempt outside of court, the offending party may offer the other parent more visitation time. If the matter does go to court, the court has the power to award the other party more parenting time. If the behavior continues, the custody arrangement may eventually be modified.
- Child Support. If the offending party is being held in contempt for failing to pay child support, he or she can cure the contempt by paying the amount in full or setting up a payment plan to catch up on the amount. If the offending party can pay a significant portion of the outstanding amount, it is less likely the court will impose further punishment.
- Property Settlement. If the offending party is being held in contempt for failing to follow through with a property settlement stated in the divorce decree, he or she may cure the contempt by fully complying with the provision in the decree. In the alternative, the offending party may be able to negotiate an arrangement with the opposing party to cure the contempt outside of court.
The consequences of contempt may include both civil and criminal penalties, including fines, paying attorneys fees, or even jail time.
You should contact an attorney as soon as you believe your ex-spouse is willfully violating the court order. If you wait too long to file a contempt action, the court may claim you’ve acquiesced to the other party’s conduct, and therefore dismiss your action. Contact Sailer Law today at 319-260-2096 to schedule a consultation. We’ll answer any questions you have about contempt and help you get the process started without delay.