Understanding the Difference Between Willful and Not Willful Contempt

In Georgia, contempt of court refers to actions that disobey a court order, disrupt courtroom proceedings, or are otherwise disrespectful toward the court. Contempt actions in family law generally result from nonpayment of alimony or child support or failing to abide by the terms of a child custody and visitation order.

If a person is found in contempt they can be subjected to civil and criminal penalties such as:

  • Garnishments
  • Writs of execution
  • License revocation
  • Imprisonment

What makes a difference in the outcome of a contempt action is whether or not the defendant acted willfully.

What is Wilful Contempt?

Wilful contempt can be defined as the informed and deliberate refusal of a party to comply with a court order. For a family court to find a former spouse or parent in contempt, the following must be proven:

  • The defendant was aware of the order
  • They had the ability to comply but knowingly failed to do so
  • There was no just cause or excuse for failure to comply

For example, if you have primary legal and physical custody of your children and your ex-wife can afford to pay the required child support but refuses to do so simply to spite you, you can have her charged with contempt.

Contempt charges are serious and penalties can be severe. The judge may order full or partial payment of any support arrearage and have you incarcerated until you comply. You could also be compelled to pay court costs and your former spouse’s legal fees, as well as added fines.

Contempt That Is Not Wilful

The best way to defend against a contempt action is to show that you did not willfully disobey the court order. One of the strongest defenses is the inability to comply. For example, if you did not pay child support for two months because you lost your job, you aren’t likely to be found guilty of contempt. Other defenses include:

  • The court order was void because the judge who entered it lacked the jurisdiction to handle the original case.
  • You relied in good faith on a private agreement with your former spouse, albeit one that conflicted with the terms of the original order.
  • The original order was too vague to be enforceable.

It is important to remember that even if you are found not guilty of contempt, you are still responsible for making any overdue payments or otherwise complying with the original order (unless it was void).

Contact Us

If you find yourself facing a contempt action in a Georgia family court, please contact the Law Office of Judith Delus, P.A. If you did not intentionally disobey a court order, our family law team will strive to build a strong defense by proving that you could not comply or made a genuine mistake. If you did commit a violation, we will try to negotiate an outcome that returns you to a state of compliance. To schedule a confidential consultation, call 678.601.5580 or contact us today.

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Law Office of Judith Delus, P.A.

Mrs. Montgomery practices in the areas of family law, immigration, and landlord/tenant law. She is very active in the Atlanta Metro Area and dedicates her spare time to charities that help and promote children’s rights, elder rights, and animal rights.

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