Contempt Proceedings In Family Law or When the Ex-Spouse Doesn’t Pay You

Most contempt proceedings in family matters involve financial issues. For example, when the ex-spouse doesn’t pay a debt that he/she is required to pay or when the ex-spouse fails to pay a sum of money to his/her former spouse. The aggrieved part is the person seeking performance under the decree. The non-performing ex-spouse is the contempnor in a contempt proceeding.

Contempt proceedings are remedial. This means that the aggrieved party is seeking a remedy; specifically, payment of some sort. The contempt power is used to coerce the non-performing contempnor to perform under the terms and conditions of the decree. Performance under a decree just means that the parties to the divorce have to do what the decree says he/she has to do.

“Disobedience of any lawful judgment, order, or process of the court” is contempt of court. Minn. Stat. Section 588.01, subd. 3.

Contempt behaviors occur outside of the immediate presence of the court and, therefore, a hearing with evidence and witnesses is necessary before the court will hold the non-performing party in contempt.

The contempnor actually “holds the keys to jail” because he/she only has to perform under the decree and “purge” his/her contempt by paying what he/she owes. When the aggrieved party has his/her remedy, then the contempt proceeding is moot because the contempnor has purged the contempt by doing what he/she was supposed to do all along.

Filing a contempt action is very serious.  A contempt action should really be the very last option. The aggrieved party should try to obtain a remedy in mediation if possible. The aggrieved party should also send a letter demanding payment by the contempnor by a certain deadline before filing any contempt action. A remedy is the goal here. The confinement of the contempnor is not the goal because he/she will not be able to pay if confined to jail.

About Kate Willmore, Esq.

Kate Willmore, Saint Cloud, Minnesota, divorce, custody and family attorney brings over 25 years experience to every client's legal matter. *** Licensed in Minnesota and in California

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