What Happens When You Ignore the Court in a Divorce Case?

The nature of a divorce case makes it unlikely either party will get everything requested, and it is not usual for both parties to make concessions never really contemplated. It can be tempting to ignore the judge’s decision if it feels like an unfair burden is being placed on you, but there are real and serious consequences to defying a court order that should be kept in mind. A recent news story in the Tampa Bay Times discussed a decision by a former state senator to ignore a court order to release custody of his dogs to his ex-wife during divorce proceedings. He also failed to attend two hearings on the issue, which ultimately resulted in the judge issuing a warrant for his arrest for contempt of court. While he eventually won the right to have the contempt of court ruling reconsidered by the trial court, it still serves as a cautionary tale of what can happen if you fail to act on a judgment of the court.

Direct Criminal Contempt

Direct criminal contempt occurs when the judge personally hears or sees the contemptuous act in open court. Generally, this happens when someone openly states their intent to ignore an order of the court, directly questions the authority of the judge or threatens the judge or any member of the court staff. In this situation, the judge may directly find the party guilty and issue punishment right away, which typically consists of jail time. The judge does have to inform the party of the facts that justify a finding of contempt and give that person a chance to excuse his/her actions or attempt to mitigate any punishment. Any sentence handed down is announced in open court.

Indirect Criminal Contempt

Indirect criminal contempt is based on defiance of a court outside the actual court room, such as not vacating the marital home or relinquishing custody of children in a divorce case. An order for indirect contempt can be issued by the judge alone or based on an affidavit by someone with knowledge of the facts that give rise to criminal contempt. The party named in the order must be given notice of a hearing where he/she will have an opportunity to defend against the contempt of court motion. In addition to notice, the judge can issue an arrest warrant if the judge does not believe the party will show up for the hearing. At the hearing itself, the party will have the right to have an attorney present and to testify in his/her own defense.

If the contempt charge is based on criticism or disrespect towards the presiding judge, that judge will recuse him/herself from the hearing to avoid any appearance of impropriety or bias. The judge will determine guilt or innocence at the hearing, and if the party is found guilty of contempt, he/she will have an additional opportunity to present circumstances that could justify issuing a lesser sentence.

Talk to a Lawyer

It is normal to feel lots of emotion when a judge issues an order that you greatly dislike, but complying is typically in your best interest and that of your family. Working with a lawyer makes it less likely you will face this situation since they are trained advocates that will work hard to get what you want. If you are in the Fort Lauderdale or Boynton Beach areas and are coping with a family law matter, Stok Kon + Braverman, can be the advocate you need. Contact us today to schedule a confidential consultation.