Contempt of Court in a Divorce Action

In New York State, courts will issue "orders" directing parties to do something or not to do something. Specifically, in divorce cases there can be several court orders directing the parties in one manner or another over various issues.

Sometimes, a party in a divorce action will ignore a court order or be unable to comply with the court order such as payment of monies to a spouse ( child support, maintenance, payment of legal fees, equitable distribution). The remedy for non-compliance of a court order is civil contempt.

New York State Divorce Laws

The New York State Domestic Relations Law (DRL) provides that where a spouse fails to make a payment pursuant to an order or judgment in a matrimonial action the aggrieved spouse may apply to the court to punish the defaulting spouse for contempt but only if it appears presumptively to the satisfaction of the court that payment cannot be enforced by other means such as enforcement of a money judgment or an income execution. Any motion to punish for civil contempt is addressed to the sound discretion of the court.

Civil Contempt

To sustain civil contempt a court must find the alleged spouse violated a lawful order which expressed an unequivocal mandate and that as a result of such violation a right or remedy of a petition was prejudiced. The moving party must establish the violation of contempt by clear and convincing evidence. However, the aggrieved spouse is not required to prove that all alterative remedies have been exhausted but proof that alternative remedies would be ineffectual is sufficient to sustain a finding of contempt.

In most cases it is not necessary for the court to find that a parties' disobedience of the court order was willful or even deliberate rather the mere act of disobedience, regardless of motive, is sufficient to sustain a finding of civil contempt if the disobedience defeats, impairs, impedes or prejudices the aggrieved party.

Courts know that contempt of court is a harsh remedy that must be used sparingly but where the courts are satisfied that alternative remedies would be ineffectual the court may dispense with the requirement that a showing of efforts to secure compliance have failed.

Hearings on civil contempt are not always required

A hearing on the issue of civil contempt of court is only conducted where there is a factual dispute which cannot be resolved on motion papers alone.

What is a "Purge" Amount?

Once civil contempt of court is found the court can adjudge a jail sentence but suspend the sentence to provide the party with the opportunity to purge the sentence by a certain date. Usually a dollar amount is fixed as the "purge" and if not paid a warrant for an arrest is used for the period of jail time as set forth by the judge. Usually the purge amount can be paid at any time to eliminate the jail sentence.

Westchester County Divorce Lawyers

At Proto, Sachs & Brown, LLP we have decades of experience in family and divorce law. We have worked on countless divorce cases involving contempt issues. This includes child support cases, divorce cases and other family court cases.

If you or a loved one is seeking contempt of court or facing contempt of court you must have an attorney to protect your interests. Call our divorce and family law attorneys today for a free initial consultation.

Out offices are located in downtown White Plains. We can be reached by telephone (914) 946-4808 or by E-Mail.