Contempt of court in Georgia means willful disobedience of a court order, such as a child support order and divorce decree.
For example, if a parent is supposed to pay child support pursuant to a court order and that parent fails to do so intentionally, that parent may be found in contempt of court.
Filing an application for citation of contempt is one way to enforce a court order against a disobedient party.
What is contempt of court in Georgia?
Contempt of court in Georgia means that a party willfully violated a court order.
“[T]he purpose of a contempt proceeding is to place the parties in as nearly the same position as they would have occupied had the [contemnor] obeyed the previous order from the outset, and the trial court is limited to exercising only that power necessary to enforce the terms of that order.” Mullins-Leholm v. Evans, 322 Ga.App. 869 (2013).
Thus, failure to abide by the specific language of a court order could be contempt.
For example, if the final judgment and decree of divorce ordered a former spouse to pay $500 per month in alimony and that former spouse fails to do so willfully, that spouse may be in contempt.
Acting against the spirit and intent of a court order may also be contempt.
For example, if a spouse is ordered to pay alimony in the amount of $1,000 per month and that paying spouse (out of spite) pays the alimony in pennies, this may be a violation of the spirit and intent of the court’s order regarding alimony.
How to file contempt of court in Georgia
You would file contempt of court in Georgia to begin the contempt proceeding. Generally, you would file in the same court where the court order at issue was rendered.
For example, if the final judgment and decree of divorce was entered in Cobb County Superior Court, then you would file the contempt action with Cobb County Superior Court. However, there are exceptions to this general rule regarding where to file contempt actions.
Also, a contempt proceeding is not a new civil action. Rather, it is a part of the primary action, such as a divorce case. That is, an action for contempt is a motion in nature.
Proving contempt of court in Georgia
Proving contempt of court in Georgia involves presenting evidence to show that the other party willfully violated the court order.
For example, if the custodial parent intentionally withholds visitation from the non-custodial parent, the non-custodial parent could file a motion for contempt against the custodial parent. At the contempt hearing, the non-custodial parent would present evidence that shows: (1) the custodial parent withheld visitation; and (2) the custodial parent’s withholding visitation was intentional.
What happens when you are in contempt of court in Georgia?
Many things could happen if you are found to be in contempt of court in Georgia.
There are mainly two types of contempt: (1) criminal contempt; and (2) civil contempt. The court could punish criminal contempt “by fines not exceeding $1,000.00, by imprisonment not exceeding 20 days, or both.” O.C.G.A. § 15-6-8.
For civil contempt, the court could order indefinite imprisonment until the contemnor purges himself or herself of the contempt.
Also, the court could award attorney’s fees.
How do you beat contempt of court in Georgia?
One of the ways to defend against a motion for contempt is to show that it was not possible for you to abide by the court order.
For example, a parent facing contempt for failing to pay child support may argue that she lost her job involuntarily and did just about everything she could do to try to come up with the money for the child support.
Another defense to a motion for contempt is the doctrine of unclean hands. The defense of unclean hands basically is an argument that the respondent should not be held in contempt of court because the petitioner’s action or inaction caused the respondent’s disobedience of the court order.
Chat with an Atlanta Divorce Lawyer about your options.