What Happens If You Don’t Follow A Family Court Order?
Family court orders are legally binding instructions that must be followed once issued by a judge. These orders cover important matters like child custody, visitation rights, child support, and division of assets in a divorce. Not following a family court order can have serious legal ramifications that could negatively impact your future.
You May Be Found In Contempt Of Court
One of the most common penalties for not following a family court order is being found in contempt of court. Contempt of court occurs when someone willfully disobeys or ignores a court order. The judge has wide-ranging discretion to sanction contempt, including fines, community service, probation, or even jail time in some cases.
Some examples of contemptuous behavior are:
- Not paying court-ordered child support or alimony
- Violating child custody arrangements by not returning the child after visitation
- Not following the court’s visitation schedule
- Refusing to transfer assets awarded in a divorce
Factors Considered In Contempt Rulings
When finding someone in contempt, the judge will consider factors like:
Courts look at whether the violation was willful and knowing versus an unavoidable mistake or misunderstanding. Intentional defiance of a court order makes a contempt finding much more likely.
Multiple violations of the same order generally warrant harsher contempt sanctions than a one-time occurrence. Judges take a dim view of those who repeatedly flout orders.
Adverse Effects of Noncompliance
The actual harm caused by noncompliance will impact contempt punishment. Tangible financial losses or endangerment from violating orders could mean more severe sanctions.
Ability To Comply
Judges may show leniency if someone legitimately lacks the means to comply versus blatantly refusing to do so. But the violator bears the burden of proving inability to obey.
Contempt Penalties And Remedies
Typical contempt penalties include:
- Fines – Monetary sanctions are common for civil contempt findings. These are payable to the complainant injured by the violation. Fines can be daily until compliance occurs.
- Imprisonment – Jail time of up to 6 months may be ordered for criminal contempt. This penalty forces violators to comply with orders.
- Probation – Judges can place someone on probation for contempt with requirements to follow court orders. Probation terms often include compliance monitoring.
- Community Service – Courts may assign violators community service hours where they must provide unpaid work to local organizations.
- Makeup Parenting Time – For child visitation violations, makeup time with the child may be ordered to restore lost parenting time.
- Payment Of Attorney Fees – The court can order repayment of the other party’s legal costs to prosecute the contempt.
- Coercive Remedies – These sanctions compel compliance with the order, like wage garnishment for unpaid support.
You Must Prove Any Inability To Comply
The burden falls on the violating party to convince the judge that complying was impossible rather than willful defiance. Valid inability reasons may include:
- Serious illness or disability
- Job loss making support payments impossible
- Lack of transportation for visitation
- Child refusal to comply with custody terms
Supporting evidence like doctor’s notes, termination notices, or records of efforts made will be needed to substantiate these claims. If the judge remains unpersuaded, contempt penalties may still be imposed.
Getting Arrested For Not Following Orders
Arrest warrants are routinely issued for those who flout family court orders, especially to enforce payment of child support or fines. Under federal law, child support arrest warrants can be pursued in any state, leading to extradition if necessary. Typical enforcement steps include:
- Notice of noncompliance issued giving time to remedy the violation
- Subpoenas to court hearings ordering why compliance has not occurred
- Financial penalties imposed through contempt rulings
- Drivers license suspension
- Bank account or wage garnishment
- Bench warrant issuance for arrest by law enforcement
These escalating measures are designed to impose consequences that eventually motivate compliance with the court order. But arrest and financial penalties still accumulate.
Long-Term Consequences Of Not Complying
Beyond immediate contempt punishments, ignoring family court orders can negatively impact future proceedings and relationships long-term:
- Custody loss – Repeatedly violating visitation or joint custody terms may tip the scales toward changing custody arrangements if brought back to court.
- Alimony or support modifications – Failing to pay court-ordered support can result in efforts to increase the payment amounts.
- Damaged relationship with ex-spouse – Flouting the court’s orders breeds resentment and can make future co-parenting and communication about the children much more difficult.
- Employment issues – Some professions revoke occupational licenses for failure to pay child support, like medical licenses. Contempt findings may also show up on background checks.
- Credit score damage – Unpaid support owed to the state can significantly lower credit ratings, affecting finances for years.
Getting An Order Changed Or Appealing A Contempt Finding
If someone feels a family court order is impossible to comply with, unjust, or issued in error, legal options include:
- File a motion to modify the order – This asks the court to change the underlying order for reasons like impossibility of performance or financial hardship.
- Request a stay pending appeal – An appeal may be filed contesting a contempt finding. A stay pauses compliance requirements while the appeal proceeds.
- Submit evidence justifying noncompliance – Any documentation supporting inability to comply can be presented to the court in defense at a contempt hearing.
However, unless the order is successfully changed or overturned, it must still be followed or further contempt and penalties can result.
Family court orders contain legally enforceable obligations that must be followed once issued. Failing to comply can result in sanctions like fines or jail time through contempt of court findings. You have the burden of proving any claimed inability to follow the order. While appealing or seeking to modify orders is possible, they remain in effect and binding unless overturned. Having an experienced family law attorney’s guidance can help navigate this complex process and avoid finding yourself facing serious contempt penalties.
What is the most serious penalty for not following a family court order?
The most serious penalty is jail time in criminal contempt cases. Judges can sentence someone to up to 6 months incarceration for willful defiance of court orders.
Can you get arrested on the spot for violating an order?
Police can arrest someone immediately if a bench warrant has been issued for noncompliance. This often occurs for those delinquent on child support payments or flouting child custody terms.
What if you can’t afford child support payments ordered?
Notify the court immediately and file a motion to modify the child support order based on inability to pay. Provide documentation like pay stubs, bills, and a financial affidavit. You must keep paying as much as possible until modification.
Can you get fined daily until you comply?
Yes, courts can impose coercive fines that accumulate daily or weekly at an accelerating rate to compel violators to comply promptly. These fines payable to the complainant can become extremely large over time.
Can compliance monitoring be required?
Yes, those on probation for contempt may be ordered to submit proof like custody logs or payment receipts showing ongoing compliance. Monitoring aims to prevent repeated violations.