What Happens If You Violate A Family Court Order?
Family court orders are legal binding documents issued by a judge to establish rules, obligations, and responsibilities for parties involved in domestic relations cases. These orders cover issues like child custody, visitation, child support, spousal support, and division of property. Violating a family court order can have serious legal consequences.
Types of Family Court Orders
There are several common types of family court orders:
Child Custody and Visitation Orders
These orders specify the living arrangements for minor children and set forth a visitation schedule for the non-custodial parent. Custody can be sole custody to one parent or joint custody to both parents.
Child Support Orders
Child support orders require one parent to financially support their minor children. They stipulate the amount to be paid and the frequency of payments.
Spousal Support Orders
Spousal support, also called alimony, is financial support paid by one spouse to the other after separation or divorce. Orders outline payment amount and duration.
Restraining orders prohibit contact between family members in situations involving domestic violence or child abuse. They restrict communication and personal interactions.
Property Division Orders
These orders dictate how assets and debts will be divided between spouses during separation or divorce proceedings. They specify who gets ownership and responsibility for property.
Consequences for Violating Family Court Orders
Violating a family court order is punishable by civil and criminal penalties. Typical consequences include:
Contempt of Court
Contempt of court is the willful failure to comply with a court order. It can lead to fines, community service, or even jail time. Judges have broad discretion when finding someone in contempt.
Make-Up and Compliance Provisions
The court may order make-up time for visitation denied due to order violations. For child support issues, wages can be garnished to pay owed amounts. Passport denial is also an option for delinquent child support.
Lawyer and Court Costs
The violating party may have to pay legal fees and court costs related to civil or criminal contempt proceedings required to address the violation. Lawyer fees for the other party can also be included.
Intervention by Law Enforcement
Police can intervene and make arrests for restraining order violations involving violence, harassment, stalking, or unauthorized contact. Criminal charges are possible.
Modification of Order by Judge
Judges can modify custody, visitation, and support arrangements if the existing orders are not being followed. This may limit parental rights.
Termination of Parental Rights
In extreme cases, continued violations of custody and visitation orders can lead to petitions for termination of parental rights. This permanently ends the parent-child legal relationship.
Civil Lawsuits and Damages
Civil lawsuits may be filed over violations of property division orders or intentional infliction of emotional distress. Monetary damages can be awarded.
If spouses do not fulfill property division order obligations, assets can be forcibly sold through foreclosure sales to satisfy outstanding debts.
Child Custody and Visitation Violations
Child custody violations occur when:
- The custodial parent denies or interferes with the non-custodial parent’s court-ordered visitation rights with the child.
- The non-custodial parent takes the child for visitation but refuses to return them on time.
- Either parent removes and relocates the child without permission of the court or consent of the other parent (parental kidnapping).
Typical court responses include:
- Make-up visitation – The denied parent gets replacement visitation of the same duration.
- Supervised visitation – Future visits are monitored by a social worker or occur at designated sites.
- Contempt charges – Fines, community service, or jail time can be imposed.
- Custody changes – Custody may be switched to the other parent if violations are severe.
- Child return orders – The violating parent must immediately return the child.
- Abduction charges – Parental kidnapping leads to state and federal criminal charges.
Child Support Violations
Failing to pay court-ordered child support is a violation. Typical consequences include:
- Wage garnishment – Child support is automatically deducted from paychecks.
- Tax refund interception – Tax refunds are seized and applied to owed child support.
- Bank account seizure – Accounts can be frozen and funds withdrawn for child support.
- License suspension – Driver’s, professional, and recreational licenses can be suspended.
- Passport denial – The U.S. can reject passport applications for child support delinquents.
- Civil contempt charges – Nonpayment often leads to fines or jail time until amounts are paid.
- Credit damage – Missed child support results in severe credit score damage.
Restraining Order Violations
It’s illegal to violate restraining orders. Even if the protected party communicates with or approaches the restrained party, the restrained party must avoid contact. Common violations and consequences include:
- Returning to shared home – This may result in trespassing charges.
- Attempting communication – Any contact, even indirect, can lead to charges.
- Cyberstalking – Harassment via technology is punishable.
- Approaching protected people – Fines or jail are likely for approaching someone protected by the order.
- Unauthorized surveillance – Spying on or tracking the protected party leads to stalking charges.
- Violence – Any physical harm violates no contact orders. Results are severe criminal charges.
Property Division Order Violations
Violations usually involve:
- Failure to transfer assets – Not signing quitclaim deeds or submitting required documents.
- Theft or damage of property – Illegally taking or destroying assets awarded to the ex-spouse.
- Unauthorized sales – Selling property that belongs to the ex-spouse.
- Continued use of property – Refusing to vacate real estate or return vehicles.
Consequences may be:
- Contempt of court – Fines and jail time can be imposed for willful disobedience.
- Foreclosure sales – Courts can force sales of property to satisfy debts.
- Lawsuits – The harmed party can sue for enforcement or damages.
- Credit damage – Violators’ credit scores suffer if they fail to make court-ordered payments.
Avoiding Family Court Order Violations
You can avoid violations by:
- Clearly understanding order terms and deadlines
- Maintaining accurate recordkeeping
- Promptly completing all required actions
- Communicating with ex-spouse civilly
- Seeking clarification from lawyers if confused
- Addressing potential issues before they become violations
- Utilizing mediation and counseling to resolve disputes
The best approach is compromising and demonstrating good faith efforts to comply. Judges frown upon willful disobedience of orders. They also dislike using children or money as weapons during family legal disputes.
Getting Help with Order Violations
If struggling with order violations, immediately seek help from:
- Your family law attorney – They can advise your legal options and rights.
- Mediators – They facilitate productive conversations to resolve issues.
- Counselors and therapists – They help you process emotions and communicate effectively.
- Legal aid organizations – Get guidance from family law experts at low or no cost.
You can petition the court to modify unrealistic or unmanageable terms. But you must obey existing orders until changes are approved. Avoid self-help evasion tactics – they’ll only make the situation worse.
Family court orders exist to provide structure, stability, and fairness during and after dissolution of marriages and partnerships. They are binding legal contracts overseen by the court. Violating orders has significant emotional, financial, and legal repercussions. The best approach is fully understanding court orders and diligently following all terms. This maintains harmony, ensures family stability, and allows you to avoid penalties for non-compliance. If struggling with compliance, immediately seek professional help. With patience and good faith efforts, most family court orders are manageable. Avoid viewing orders as punishment and work positively toward rebuilding your life after separation.
What if I disagree with the order terms? You must still comply, but can file petitions to modify the orders. Unless the court approves changes, the existing orders are in effect.
Can I refuse visitation because my ex isn’t paying child support?
No. Child support and visitation are separate issues. You must allow court-ordered visitation regardless of whether you’ve received child support payments.
What if I can’t afford my child support payments? File for a modification immediately. Provide evidence of your inability to pay. The court may lower payments but unpaid amounts will still accrue.
Can I let my ex visit the kids without a formal order in place? Not recommended. Get a court visitation schedule to establish rights and prevent future issues. Informal agreements are hard to enforce if problems arise.
What if my ex takes the kids but won’t tell me where?
Immediately call your lawyer and the police. File an emergency order for child return and custody. Parental kidnapping charges are likely.