Murfreesboro defense attorney

Contempt of Court

Emotions often run high in domestic relations cases. When one party refuses to comply with Court Orders, such as Parenting Plans or Orders of Protection, the opposing party often seeks advice about a remedy. Most of the time, the legal remedy is to file a Petition for Contempt of Court, asking the Judge to interveneMurfreesboro defense attorney when a person has not complied with a Court order. A Murfreesboro family lawyer at Bennett | Michael | Hornsby explains Contempt of Court.

There are two types of contempt in Tennessee: Civil Contempt and Criminal Contempt. In each type of contempt, jail time is a potential outcome for the person who is has not complied with a Court Order.  Also in each type of contempt, the person who is seeking a remedy or relief from the Court is required to prove that the other person willfully, or voluntarily, violated or refused to comply with a lawful, clear, unambiguous and specific Court order. In a civil case, this must be proved by a preponderance of the evidence. In a criminal case, it must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

So, should you file for Criminal Contempt or Civil Contempt?  There are many factors to consider and discuss with an attorney which will affect this decision.  As stated above, the Court can order incarceration in either type of contempt.   However, in a civil contempt case the incarceration normally only lasts until the person complies with the Court order. The classic example is the Court incarcerating a person until they pay Court ordered child support.  In a case where a party petitions the Court to find the other party in Criminal Contempt of Court, if the Court finds that the person in Contempt of Court, the Judge can sentence that person to incarceration for up to 10 days (per violation or act of contempt), or a monetary fine of up to $50.00 (per act of contempt), or both.  The offending party may also be responsible for paying the other’s attorney fees.  In a criminal case, the person alleged to be in Contempt of Court also has have additional rights not afforded him or her in a civil case. 

Common examples of contempt in domestic relations cases include refusal to pay child support when a person is able and has been ordered by the Court to do so; refusal to abide by a Permanent Parenting Plan that has been entered by the Court; or contacting an ex-partner when an Order of Protection prohibits contact.  However, there are also legal defenses to Contempt of Court allegations, such as that the act or omission was not willful because the actor did not have the ability to comply for some legitimate reason. 

In a post-divorce situation, a person must weigh all manner of things before deciding whether to petition a Court to hold a previous spouse in Contempt of Court. For example, if the contempt is that the other parent has not complied with a Court ordered Parenting Plan, a person would want to consider their need for the other parent to comply with the Parenting against the likelihood that a contempt case will irrevocably damage the relationship between the parents and their ability to co-parent in the future. A person may also want to consider the magnitude of the behavior of the other party (which is in violation of the Court Order), the cost of bringing suit, and the effect the case would have on the child.

Make no mistake about it, Contempt of Court is serious legal matter and attempts to cut corners on complying with Court orders should be avoided.  If you find yourself questioning whether you should or should not act or not act regarding following Court Orders, we highly recommend that you consult with an experienced attorney.  There is no substitute for experience and knowledge of the practices and remedies that the Judges employ in the jurisdiction in which your Court Order was issued.  

Contact a Murfreesboro Family Lawyer

At Bennett |Michael |Hornsby our lawyers have over 80 years of combined experience in dealing with Contempt of Court and all other Divorce and Family law issues.  You’ll also find our staff to be responsive, professional, and friendly.  If you have a contempt issue, been served with Contempt of Court pleadings, or want to explore a contempt filing against another party, please contact us immediately at 615-898-1560 for a free appointment.  An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure in these types of proceedings. You’ll be glad you made the call!   


Dinah Michael