Contempt of Court – The Basics in Divorce or Family Law Cases (Adapted from NW Justice Project)

PART I – What is contempt and how to prove it

The first thing secured in a Family Law or Divorce case is an order of the court. When the other party doesn’t follow that order, an action for contempt may be the next step. Several factors need to be considered before seeking contempt as a remedy.

Intentionally disobeying a court order is contempt. Your family law attorney is your best resource for deciding to seek action for contempt. Consider that contempt is not always the best or most effective remedy and that judges do not like to find someone in contempt unless it is a serious violation.

Examples of contempt in family law cases include:

  • Refusing to allow court ordered visitation
  • Not returning a child at the end of visitation
  • Not making reasonable efforts to require the child to visit according to the parenting plan
  • Non-delivery of property as ordered in the divorce decree
  • Non-enforcement of court ordered child support
  • Not enforcing temporary family law orders and restraining orders

To prove contempt, the court must see that there is a valid court order in effect, that the other party knows about the order, and that the facts show a plain violation of the order.  The other party must be given notice of the contempt hearing and a chance to be heard.  All of these conditions must be met and the court needs to see that contempt is the appropriate remedy for the violation.


If the violation is for a parenting plan violation, one of the following must be proven as well.

  1. the violation was in bad faith;
  2. the violator was engaged in intentional misconduct; or
  3. previous sanctions have not been effective.