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What contempt of court is and how to avoid it?

At the end of your divorce, the judge signs an order that sets out your responsibilities and those of your former spouse. Both of you must follow these, or you may be in contempt of court.

According to Family Law Advocacy for Low and Moderate Income Litigants, a judge can send someone to jail for failing to follow a court order.

Defining Contempt

If you or your former spouse can follow a judge’s order such as paying child support, but choose not to, that is contempt. However, if you want to hold your spouse accountable, you will have to file an action or lawsuit and prove to the judge that he or she is guilty.

The goal of the action is not to punish your spouse but to force him or her to obey the order. Even so, if you win, a judge may charge a fine or order jail time, and your spouse may have to pay your attorney fees.

Avoiding Contempt

What if you cannot obey the judge’s order because of a change in your situation? First, talk to your former spouse and explain the circumstances that are causing the issue. If he or she is willing, the two of you can compromise on the court order, but do not count on your ex’s agreement.

A disagreement or change of heart later could put you in jeopardy because as far as the judge knows, you have violated the court order. Put the change in writing and take it to court for the judge’s approval. Temporary or permanent modifications keep you in compliance and protect you against a contempt charge.

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