Disobeying a legally binding and enforceable order from a family court in North Carolina is not advisable. Failure or refusal to obey court orders may land you into contempt of family court.
If your ex-spouse files a motion for contempt and the family court find you willfully violated a court order, you will face several unpleasant penalties such as fines and sometimes a prison sentence.
Here, we’ll describe contempt of court in North Carolina and the penalties a party could face when held in contempt of court.
What is Contempt of Court in North Carolina’s Family Courts?
Contempt of court is a term that describes a situation where a person intentionally fails or refuses to obey a family court order. According to North Carolina law, contempt of court may apply when you violate the following orders:
- Child support
- Child custody / visitation
- Domestic violence restraining order
- Spousal support
- Equitable distribution of property
The common issues that can lead to a party filing for contempt of court in family law include:
- Motion for contempt in child support cases where the responsible parent fails or refuses to make payments
- An ex-spouse violates a standing restraining order
- When a parent fails to return the child to the other parents and end the visitation period.
Under the law, two types of contempt are recognized: civil and criminal. Every kind of contempt has a set of penalties when one disregards the order.
However, the penalties are not what the general public would think. Most people think civil contempt penalties involve money while criminal contempt penalties result in jail time, but this is not always the case.
According to North Carolina Law, an individual that disobeys a civil court contempt may not be found in criminal contempt for the same conduct.
Here are the two court contempt scenarios explained in detail:
Civil contempt of family court
Civil contempt forces an individual to comply with North Carolina court orders. It can involve cases in which contempt occurs due to a parent’s consistent refusal to allow the other party access to the children or a parent’s failure to pay child support or refusal to comply with a non-monetary related court order. It may mean jail time for individuals charged with contempt until they comply with the order. North Carolina’s civil contempt statute has no specific punishment for civil contempt apart from imprisonment.
Criminal contempt of family court
Criminal contempt applies to conduct that shows a lack of respect for a court order that aims to disrupt normal court proceedings. Such contempt is punishable by public reprimand or censure that also carries monetary fines of up to $500.00 in addition to jail time of not less than 30 days.
According to North Carolina law, criminal contempt can occur due to several behaviors. The applicable statute includes the behavior and actions that willfully disrespect or disrupt courts and those that refuse to comply with probation. The 30-day minimum prison time can increase due to the case’s specific facts and behavior in which the contempt arises.
The typical examples of criminal contempt include:
- Failing to testify can lead to jail time of up to six months
- Failing to pay child support that can lead to 120 days of prison time
Behavior that can lead to criminal contempt in North Carolina had exceptions when the court did not previously warn about it. The only behavior that does not require a warning includes:
- An individual publishes an inaccurate report about court proceedings that threaten the administration of justice but will not be published for publishing truthful information on court proceedings.
- When an individual communicates disrespectfully with a juror
Punishment for Contempt Of Court in NC Family Court
If one party fails to honor their end of a court order, it will seriously impact their daily life and cause financial and emotional hardship to the family. The penalties for contempt in North Carolina will vary depending on the degree of disobedience and the court order type.
For instance, an individual may face Class A1 misdemeanor charges when they violate a domestic violence protective order that carries about 150 days of jail time. A subsequent violation of the protective order charged as a Class H felony may be punishable by up to 33 months in prison.
Although violating a protective order in North Carolina is more severe than violating a family law order, the non-compliant party may still face fines and jail time. But, most motions for civil contempt will be filed for individuals who violate family court orders. The typical examples of family law orders are child support and child custody.
Work With a Qualified Family Law Attorney in NC
Speak with a qualified family law attorney in North Carolina from Remington & Dixon PLLC if your ex-spouse files a motion for contempt against you. We have experienced family law and divorce attorneys in Charlotte who will advise you on the available legal options amidst contempt of court cases. Get in touch with us today to get started.
Contempt of Court FAQs
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Jennifer is a founding partner at Remington & Dixon, PLLC. Jennifer concentrates her practice in the areas of family law, wills & estates, unemployment benefits appeals, and traffic. At Elon University School of Law, Jennifer was the vice president of the Public Interest Law Society and a member of the Family Law Society. During law school, Jennifer interned at the Elon University School of Law Field Placement Clinic with Legal Aid of North Carolina where she represented clients in domestic violence court proceedings.