What Happens When Someone Violates a Family Court Order?

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When someone violates a court order, regardless of which court made the order, they can be held in contempt of court. There are two different kinds of contempt of court orders, depending on the situation: civil contempt of court and criminal contempt of court. To pursue such an action against someone who has violated a family court order, you’ll have to allege the violation with a contempt action, known as a Rule to Show Cause or Rule to Cause. Of course, there are different ways that someone can violate a family court order and different actions that can be taken to address the situation. Today, we’ll elaborate on how someone might violate a family court order, what you can do about it, and what to expect to happen next.

What Sorts of Family Court Orders Might Be Violated?

While there are plenty of different forms of court orders, we’re specifically looking at those that are ordered by the family courts in South Carolina. Family court orders frequently involve things like child support, child visitation and custody, division of assets, alimony payments, and other issues relevant to divorce, separation, and shared children. Following are a few examples of how someone might violate a specific family court order:

  • Withholding a child from ordered visitation
  • Refusing to pay ordered child support
  • Refusing to pay ordered alimony
  • Failing to list shared assets in a divorce

When such situations occur, whomever has violated the court order can be held in contempt of court, which can carry serious consequences. If you are ordered to do something by the family courts, you need to do it. If you are unable to uphold the order or have a good reason not to, then you need to contact a South Carolina family law attorney as quickly as possible. Better yet, you would be wise to have legal representation before the court issues any kind of order, so that you aren’t put in a position where you might feel forced or pressured to violate a court order.

Direct Contempt of Court and Constructive Contempt of Court

Direct contempt of court is defined as any contempt of court that occurs inside of the courtroom or courthouse and is witnessed by someone within the court, such as the judge, jurors, or other constituents. When this happens, there is no need for a Rule to Show Cause. The court can simply decide to address the situation with a contempt hearing. An example of this might be physical or verbal abuse that occurs within the courthouse.

Constructive contempt of court is defined as any contempt of court that does not occur within the courthouse. When this happens, it is necessary to have a Rule to Show Cause to bring the matter to the court’s attention and address it with a contempt hearing that involves all of the associated paperwork and evidence of the contempt. This will include an affidavit or verified petition with an explanation of why the person is in contempt of court. Examples of constructive contempt include withholding a child from court ordered visitation with their other parent or refusing to pay court ordered child support or alimony.

Civil Contempt of Court and Criminal Contempt of Court

Once it has been established by the South Carolina family court that someone has violated a court order and is therefore in contempt of court, it must then be determined whether or not it is a civil contempt violation or a criminal contempt violation. Ultimately, this decision will be made by the family court judge, based on the details, cause, and intention of the ruling.

When the judge wishes to compel the person to comply with the family court order, then he or she will find the person to be in civil contempt. This means that the person who violated the court order may be made to pay a fine and/or spend time in jail if they refuse to comply. This is common in cases where someone is ordered to make payments for child support or alimony. The person who is in civil contempt of court can often be quickly convinced to comply with the order in an effort to avoid or end their jail time and prevent or end the associated fines. To get another person held in civil contempt of court, you must provide evidence of their contempt which is ‘clear and convincing,’ though not beyond reasonable doubt.

When the judge wishes to punish the person who is contempt of court and to uphold the authority of the court to enforce court orders, the person may face criminal contempt charges. The primary difference is that the person cannot simply decide to comply with the order, at this point, to prevent or end the associated consequences, such as a jail sentence or fines. In these cases, the person can face more than six months in jail, so they have a right to fair trial by jury in which their contempt of court must be proven, with evidence, beyond reasonable doubt.

Filing a Rule to Show Cause When Someone Violates a Family Court Order

If you are dealing with a situation in which someone is violating a family court order that effects yourself or your children, and if the violation did not occur within a courtroom, then you have a constructive contempt of court situation. This means that you have to file a Rule to Show Cause, and serve the Rule to Show Cause to the person who is violating the court order. At this point, that person becomes the responding party, and he or she is allowed to gather and present their own evidence at the Rule to Show Cause hearing, in an effort to prove that they are not in contempt of court and/or have not violated the court order.

For example, if you file a Rule to Show Cause against someone who is not paying child support, you will need to provide evidence that this is so, and they will have a chance to provide evidence that they have, in fact, paid child support. Alternatively, they may provide evidence of why they have not been paying child support and any agreements that you may have made to accommodate the delay. If the other parent lost their job, for instance, and they can provide evidence in the form of text messages, written agreements, or emails (examples) that you agreed to wait for a period of time for the owed support, then this could help them.

If you wish to file a Rule to Show Cause, you will need to be well informed and well prepared with the appropriate paperwork, filed in the appropriate timeframe, and with the necessary evidence. If someone has filed a Rule to Show Cause against you, then the same is true. You need to be prepared with your evidence and a skilled South Carolina family law attorney. Contact the Elliott Frazier Law Firm to schedule a consultation to discuss your concerns and your case.

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