Contempt is a violation of a court order that occurs in two situations: a disregard or disrespect of the court or court officers in open court or 2) a violation of a court order. Contempt is punishable by civil and criminal penalties. In the family law arena, contempt of court most often arises in the context of failure to pay a money judgment. In order to establish contempt it must be shown that a person had knowledge of an order and had the ability to pay the judgment. It is also critical that the order being violated is clearly stated. For example:
Jane and John have finished their divorce and received their final filed Judgement. The Judgement states that Jane must pay John $30,000.00 to equalize the division of community property. The order does not state when this transfer must occur. In the first month, John asks Jane several times for the $30,000.00, knowing that she has $30,000.00 sitting in her bank account. John brings an action for contempt against Jane 30 days after the Judgement is filed. Result: John will lose the contempt action. Even though Jane has the ability to pay, the court order does not state the time in which Jane must perform. The court will not find contempt based on this vague order.