What is a contempt proceeding?

law-related-object-set-book-gavel-scale-justice-31723205Contempt is a process that you initiate when your ex-spouse is not obeying a court order.  For instance, if there is money due to you under a court order, and it’s not paid to you, then you can start a contempt proceeding against the other.

Historically, the procedure for bringing an alleged contemnor into court is to present a contempt petition to the judge, with notice to the relevant parties (typically by postal mail, as in notice of motions). The petitioner then asks the court to enter an order (rule to show cause) requiring the defendant to appear in court.

Illinois does not specify how the rule to show cause should be served on the contemnor. In some venues, by rule, it is done by certified or registered mail. Others require personal service. In effect, the order or rule is nothing more than a process by which the defendant is summoned to court, In re Marriage of Betts, 155 Ill App 3d 85, 507 NE2d 912 (4th D 1987) notwithstanding.

At the court date, you would present evidence that you have a clear order that the other party has violated.  It is very important to have specific details in your order, otherwise contempt cannot be ordered.  For instance, you have an order stating that you are to receive $500 a month in child support.  If there is no due date, you can have problems enforcing the order until the very last day of that month, even if you understood that you would be paid at the beginning of the month.  So details in the court order are important.  Once you’ve established that you are entitled to the relief you seek, then the other party will inform the court why they have not complied.  If they have a good reason, like they lost their job, then no contempt is likely to be found.  That doesn’t mean you won’t receive the money owed to you, but you won’t be able to hold him in contempt if he has a good reason for not paying you.

Court orders should be obeyed and enforced, but they must also protect the personal liberty rights of the alleged contemnor.

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