Enforcement and Contempt

If a person does not follow a valid court order, the other party has the ability to ask a court to enforce the order and, in some instances, find the disobedient party in contempt of court.  While many use the two terms interchangeably, they are each unique concepts.


If a party has not followed a valid court order, the other party may ask for a court to enforce that order.  Enforcement is when the Court enters an order compelling the disobedient party to comply with the order and to enact measures to ensure the disobedient party complies such as garnishing the disobedient party’s wages, placing liens on the disobedient party’s property, entering a monetary judgment, or imposing other appropriate measures.

It is best to consult with a qualified family law attorney to discuss what measures may be available in your case to compel the other party to comply or to defend against an enforcement action initiated against you.


A person is in contempt of court when the person refuses to obey a legal order.  There are two types of contempt – civil and criminal. 

Civil contempt is focused on being remedial in nature, compelling and coercing the disobedient party into obeying the order. 

Criminal contempt is focused on being punitive, seeking to punish the disobedient party even if that party has become obedient. 

Contempt is direct when it is committed in the court’s presence and indirect when it is committed outside the court’s presence.

Each type of contempt has its own burden of proof and, if criminal contempt proceedings are initiated, the defendant is entitled to a court-appointed attorney.

Incarceration is just one of the potential outcomes if a party is found in contempt.  Other possible outcomes may include imposition of a coercive fine, a compensatory fine, and an award of attorney’s fees and costs.

Contempt is not available in every situation.  It is best to consult with a qualified family law attorney to discuss if contempt is an option in your case or, if a contempt proceeding has been field against you, what defenses you may have.

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