Contempt proceedings are enforcement proceedings which are filed after a court has issued an order directing a party to perform an act (whether it be payment of child support or alimony, sale or refinance of a marital residence, payment of marital debt, attorney’s fees, etc.), and that party has failed to do what was ordered. In order for a party to be found in willful contempt of a court order, the party seeking to enforce an order must show that the other party’s failure to comply was not merely the result of a party’s inability to pay. To show that a party willfully failed to comply with an order, the party bringing the action must show that the party who failed to comply with the court order was able to comply, but willfully failed to do so.
A contempt action can be a very powerful tool in compelling a party to comply with a court order, since a court has many options at its disposal to compel a violating party to comply. Amongst them are incarceration until a party purges him or herself of their contempt, threat of incarceration if a party does not comply by a date certain, an order directing a party to pay to comply, and pay the other party’s attorney’s fees incurred in pursuing a Petition for Citation of Contempt. In contempt cases involving violations of visitation, while a court cannot modify visitation, a court can direct the violating party to grant “make-up” time to the other party.