When you have a family court order concerning a divorce, a custody dispute with your child’s co-parent, or any other legal matter resolved through the Columbia, MO family court system, it is essential for all parties beholden to that order to understand the rights and responsibilities it dictates to each party.

Life can present unpredictable complications and emergencies, and sometimes it can be difficult or impossible for someone to meet their expectations under a family court order. When this occurs through no fault of their own and in a temporary manner, it’s possible for them and the other parties involved to resolve the issue on their own. However, repeated and/or intentional violations of a family court order demand more severe responses.

Contempt of court is a legal mechanism used when any party willfully violates a lawful standing court order. The penalties for contempt reflect the scope and severity of the violation in question, and the judge overseeing the matter has the final say concerning penalties for the party in violation of their family court order.

How to Avoid Contempt of Court

Contempt of court is reserved for intentional and/or repeated violations of a family court order. When life presents an unexpected problem that prevents you from abiding by the terms of your family court order, it’s vital to know the legal options available to you that can help you resolve the problem and avoid facing contempt.

The modification process enables you to request reasonable changes to a standing family court order. For example, if you are required to pay child support and suffer a catastrophic injury that prevents you from working, it is not your fault that you can no longer meet your payment obligation; you would have a right to request a change that reflects your new circumstances. You could not, however, simply quit your job and claim you can’t make your payments anymore. Modification exists specifically to address unexpected and unforeseeable life events that materially affect your family court order.

Potential Penalties for Contempt

The most commonly cited reasons for individuals to face contempt in Columbia, MO family court include:

  • Violation of a restraining order. If you have a protective order of any kind against another party who has committed domestic violence against you, this is a lawful court order they must obey. If a former spouse, partner, or any other party restricted from contacting you due to restraining order violates that order, they are very likely to go to jail in response.
  • Child custody violations. When a parent violates the terms of a custody agreement in any way, they put their own custody and visitation rights in jeopardy. If a parent willfully violates a custody order, a judge may interpret this to mean they are unfit to handle parental responsibilities. This is just one way for a parent to face contempt regarding child custody.
  • Child support nonpayment. If a parent is required to pay child support, they must make all payments on time and in full. Repeated late, incomplete, or missing payments will quickly add up to a large amount of back child support, and the Columbia, MO family court takes nonpayment of child support very seriously.
  • Unreported terminating actions. When a divorcing couple has a spousal support agreement, there are several terminating actions that, when taken by the recipient, nullify the agreement and the paying spouse no longer needs to keep making payments. When a recipient of alimony fails to disclose a terminating action like remarriage or cohabitation and continues taking alimony payments, they can easily face contempt of court and even fraud charges.

However contempt arises in family court, the potential penalties typically reflect the nature and severity of the violation. For example, failure to pay child support and/or alimony can lead to wage garnishment and other financial penalties. Child custody violations can lead to a loss of custody or visitation rights. Violation of a restraining order is likely to lead to jail time. Whatever your case entails, it’s best to have an experienced attorney guiding you through all contempt proceedings you face.


Q: Can You Go to Jail for Contempt of Court?

A: Incarceration in county jail is very possible in response to certain violations of family court orders. For example, if a party has refused to pay child support or alimony, they may be kept in jail until they arrange repayment for back support. It’s also likely for anyone who violently violated a family court order to go to jail.

Q: Do I Need an Attorney If I Am Charged With Contempt?

A: If you are accused of willfully violating any family court order, it is very important to have experienced legal counsel defending you. Your attorney can provide valuable insights when it comes to defending yourself and avoiding the penalties you face. Unfortunately, some individuals abuse the contempt system out of spite against former partners and co-parents, accusing them of violations blown entirely out of proportion.

Q: How Long Do Contempt Proceedings Take?

A: When any party has clearly violated the terms of a family court order, it may only take a single courtroom session for the judge to resolve the issue and decide their penalties. Other cases are more contested, and many boil down to one party’s word against another’s. Ultimately, only your attorney can provide an estimate of how long it will take to resolve any accusation of contempt that arises in Columbia, MO family court.

Q: How Much Does a Family Law Attorney Cost to Hire?

A: Many family law attorneys in the Columbia, MO area charge their clients hourly for time spent handling their cases. Some attorneys offer flat rates for specific legal services that are narrow in scope and usually don’t demand ongoing work and attention. Make sure you fully understand a potential attorney’s billing policy before agreeing to their legal representation.

Ultimately, contempt of court can raise very important legal questions for all sides of the issue in question. Whether you must file contempt proceedings in Columbia, MO family court or respond to filings against you, it’s essential to reach out to an experienced family law attorney as soon as possible for the guidance you need to approach the case with confidence.