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24Nov, 15

If you deserve some kind of payment from a court case or lawsuit involving domestic or family law issues (such as child support, alimony or medical expenses), there is legal recourse for which you can use to have the party that owes you payment comply with the court’s orders. Let’s go over a few of the terms and procedures that are available through an attorney or family law firm.

Contempt, show cause and motion are three important terms to know. “Contempt” is a legal term (often referred to as “Contempt of Court”) that is used when a party in a lawsuit has failed to do (or not do) what a judge has ordered. “Show cause” is the act of explaining why an action ordered by the court as not carried out or followed. A “motion” is the request of an attorney to a court to examine a payment or lack of payment.

For example, a court may order one party to pay support to another via a lawsuit — maybe for child support or alimony payments or reimbursed expenses such as medical or schooling — and this order will be strictly enforced. If the payments are not made as the court or judge has intended or directed, the party who is owed the money can ask the court to require the other party to “show cause” to why the payments are not being made in order to prevent themselves from being held in “contempt” of court. (Criminal contempt is usually reserved for punishment for actions, and is usually not the type of contempt found in domestic cases.)

If the lack of payments or carrying out orders is “willful”, then it is without legal justification or excuse. However, the party may “show cause” by proving they were disabled or simply could not pay. The willful failure to comply with a court order is “contempt of court”. Contempt of court is punishable by an order to comply with the prior order. Repeated violations may be punishable by confinement (jail) until the requirements of the order are satisfied. Also, the court may also require the obligor to pay the legal fees of the party seeking to enforce the order.

In most cases, the attorneys representing the party who is seeking to enforce the order will send a formal letter asking for the payment to be made and give a time frame or threaten to file the motion in the cause for contempt. These letters should be responded to by the party or an attorney on his/her behalf. The non-complying party should at least respond to the letter to stave off the filing of the contempt motion.  Communicating with the attorney may give you the opportunity to explain why you are not complying, or ask for additional time. It’s never a good idea to simply ignore the letter, as contempt can end in jail time.

Contempt orders can also be sought for noncompliance with nonmonetary child custody provisions. The procedure is the same: filing of a motion in the cause, obtaining a contempt order, and having a hearing to determine what amounts should be paid or what action should be taken. Often attorney’s fees are ordered as well.


Parker Herring Law Group, PLLC is a law firm in Raleigh, North Carolina. 


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