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When an individual has not complied with a court order, a contempt motion may be brought against him or her. The other party involved in the legal matter can ask a judge to make a new order compelling the individual to stop disobeying the original court order and to perform whatever actions are necessary to comply with it. The court may also order other legal remedies as it deems appropriate.
An example of a situation in which a judge may be asked to rule on a contempt motion is when a person has been ordered to pay child support or spousal support and hasn't done so. The legal dispute may instead surround one parent denying the other one his or her visitation rights as ordered by the court. A third scenario in which a judge may be asked to hear a motion for contempt is applicable when one spouse has been ordered to be financially responsible for certain debts incurred during the marriage and has not made payments as required by the creditor or creditors involved.
When someone believes that another individual has failed to comply with an existing court order, he or she will instruct an attorney to prepare a contempt motion form. This document lists the parties names, a court file number, and details of the reasons why he or she is claiming the other person is in violation of the court order. The person bringing the contempt motion will also set out what legal remedy they are seeking.
Once the contempt motion documents have been prepared, they must be served on the other party to the legal action. This party is given notice that a contempt hearing will be held. The person responding to the motion will have the chance to give evidence to explain his or her actions, or lack of action, that have led to the allegation of disobeying the court order. In the case of unpaid child or spousal support, the person may claim that their financial circumstances have taken a turn for the worse and that the amount payable should be altered to reflect this fact.
The person who is bringing the contempt motion has the burden of proof in the case. He or she will attend the hearing and present evidence that the other party did not comply with the existing court order. Witnesses may be called to give evidence, and documents may be presented to the judge by either party to support each person's version of the facts. The judge hears evidence from both parties and makes decision about whether the respondent is in contempt of court.
What is frightening for some lawyers is how broad the judge's powers are when considering a contempt motion. Such a motion brought by another party is one thing, but a motion made on the fly and enforced by a judge is quite another.
And, yes, judges do use that power to maintain order in the courtroom and enforce their personal rules. It's not unusual for a judge to find an attorney in contempt and then command that lawyer to whip out a checkbook and pay a fine. That is a big hammer for a judge to use and some might argue that it is a necessary tool to have.