What are Contempt Petitions and When Can I File One?

In order for a marriage to be dissolved legally, the Circuit Court judge must issue a final judgment granting the divorce petition known as a divorce decree. When the judge issues a divorce decree, the terms of that divorce are explicitly stated, and both spouses must comply with any obligations that are ordered in the divorce decree in Shelby County. However, it is not uncommon for one or both spouses to ignore the terms or obligations set forth in the divorce decree. When a party to the divorce does not follow the terms or fails to fulfill their obligations, a contempt petition, or rule nisi, may be filed.  What are Contempt Petitions and When Can I File One?

A contempt petition is a petition that requests the Circuit Court to compel the spouse that is not abiding by the divorce decree to fulfill their obligations. Contempt petitions tend to be filed for failing to pay for something that they were ordered by the Circuit Court to pay. This could include child support, medical expenses, insurance, etc. Contempt petitions in Shelby County may also be filed if one parent prohibits their child from communicating with the other parent, or they could be filed if one parent does not uphold the child custody visitation schedule that was ordered by the judge in the divorce.

To file a contempt petition, the petition needs to be brought to the Circuit Court of the county that ordered the divorce decree, and a filing fee must be paid, which might vary depending on the county. While contempt petitions may technically be filed by the abiding party of the divorce, it is best to hire an attorney to file the petition. Divorce attorneys in Trussville, and everywhere else in Jefferson County, are experienced with presenting the relevant facts and law to the court in a way that positively reflects on their client’s position. Attorneys typically charge by the hour for contempt petitions, which means the attorney keeps track of every workable hour they spend on the matter, rather than only charging a flat fee. This is because it may be difficult to determine exactly how much time and effort it will take to resolve the matter since it requires the involvement of the Circuit Court.

After filing a contempt petition, a court hearing will be scheduled. At this hearing, the defendant will have to take the stand and, under oath, explain to the Circuit Court why they are not complying with the divorce decree. The defendant must show cause that would justify a reason why they should not be held to the obligations previously ordered by the Circuit Court. If the judge does not believe the defendant is justified in their failure to abide by the divorce decree, then the judge will likely order the defendant to comply by a specific day and time. If the defendant fails to comply by the date and time that the judge ordered, the judge can either have the defendant taken into custody, or the judge may fine or otherwise punish the defendant and continue to do so until they comply with the court order. The fines are usually for a substantial amount in order to encourage the defendant to promptly comply with the Circuit Court’s order.

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