Contempt Actions

Knoxville Contempt of Court Attorneys

Helping clients enforce post-divorce court orders in Tennessee

When you hear “contempt of court,” it likely conjures up visions of people having outbursts on the witness stand and being punished for their bad behavior. Sure, that happens a lot on television dramas and in the movies, but people can be served with a contempt action any time they disregard a court order, whether in or out of the courtroom. A judge can hold a person in contempt for things like failing to pay child support, alimony, or refusing to honor a custody agreement.

Contempt of court cases can be complicated, and not always as simple as, “Parent A was supposed to pay Parent B and they didn’t.” Sometimes, there are extenuating circumstances – perhaps Parent A lost their job or became seriously ill. Or maybe it is that simple, and Parent A is knowingly defying the court order. Either way, the Knoxville family law attorneys will work with you to determine if you’re dealing with contempt of court, and if so, help you get what you need for yourself and your children.

Two types of contempt actions in Tennessee

To hold someone in contempt of court, you have to prove they intentionally violated their court order. You have to show that they:

  • Knew about the court order
  • Knowingly violated it despite being able to comply with it
  • Lacked any valid excuse for compliance

Here in Tennessee, there are two categories of contempt – criminal and civil.

Criminal contempt of court

Criminal contempt is a charge that alleges an individual intentionally violated a family court order. Remember, though, like any criminal charge, someone is always innocent until proven guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” There’s a higher burden of proof in criminal cases and, if found guilty, the court gives the offender a specific punishment.

Civil contempt of court

Civil contempt is different. You can use it to stop the violation of a family court order. Unlike criminal contempt, you only need to prove a “preponderance of evidence,” meaning that you and your attorney must show that the individual more likely than not willfully violated the order. The typical punishment for civil contempt is forcing the offender to comply – pay child support, alimony, or what you have you. The court can also put an offender in jail at their discretion.

What are some examples of contempt of court in family law?

Action or inaction can lead to someone being in contempt of court. Here are some of the more common contempt cases we handle here at LaFevor & Slaughter:

  • Failure to return child to other parent after visitation per parenting plan
  • Failure to turn over marital assets and property granted in the divorce agreement
  • Non-payment of alimony or spousal support
  • Non-payment of child support
  • Refusal to allow visitation as ordered in the parenting plan
  • Violation of restraining order or order of protection

If you’re not sure if your ex-spouse is in contempt of your post-divorce agreement, give us a call and we can go over the document with you.

Q: How do I file a contempt of court action against my ex?

If your ex-spouse isn’t keeping up their end of the bargain after your divorce, you have the right to seek relief through the court. In other words, if they’re not payin’, the court’s not playin’. Here’s what you can do. One party (that’s you) files a Petition for Contempt with the court, which lets the judge know that 1) you had a court order and 2) it was violated. Courts take these actions seriously, and our Knoxville divorce attorneys can help ensure you have a strong contempt case.

However, before making the decision to file for contempt, strongly consider notifying your ex of your intent first, preferably through a letter or email. This can show that you’re acting in good faith and really want to try to work things out before taking things to court. In your communication, offer a solution to fix the situation before taking legal action – maybe give them a certain number of days to get caught up on child support before resorting to a contempt action. Our Knoxville attorneys can help you with this correspondence.

Q: If I can’t pay my child support, can I be held in contempt?

If you’re unable to pay your child support because of a big change in circumstances – like you got laid off or suffered an accident – you can apply for a child support modification. However, if you’re not paying because you simply choose not to, forgot, or are retaliating against your ex for some reason, the court isn’t gonna look kindly on you. The state enforces child support orders through Tennessee Child Support Enforcement, which gives them the right to withhold things like wages and tax refunds. If you’re having problems paying child support or alimony post-divorce, contact the attorneys at LaFevor & Slaughter for guidance before things spiral into a bigger problem – we can help.

Reliable Knoxville contempt of court lawyers

At LaFevor & Slaughter, our attorneys have decades of experience helping the people of Tennessee with their family law matters. If you’re having trouble getting your ex to adhere to your divorce or custody agreement, look to us for help. We’ll do our best to work things out in good faith, and we’ll fight for you when you need us to. Let us take care of you and your kids. To schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys, call us at (865) 637-6258 or fill out our contact form today.