Divorce proceedings are often contentious. When one party to the litigation refuses to act in accordance with a court order, that person can be found to be in “contempt.” Under Minnesota law, this process is tightly structured, and it follows exacting documentation requirements.

What are Contempt Motions?

During the course of a divorce proceeding, the judge will issue orders to address matters such as temporary custody of the children or intermediate support payments. The divorce decree itself is a court order that can establish:

•    Parenting time provisions;
•    Child support or spousal maintenance (alimony) payments;
•    Out-of-state relocation permission; or
•    Distribution of real or personal property.

When one party violates these orders, he/she can be held in contempt of court. To initiate this process, the attorney representing the spouse harmed by the refusal to follow the divorce degree will file a Motion of Contempt.

How Contempt Motions Work

A valid contempt motion must be filed with a court that presided over the divorce proceedings. This motion must state how the other party violated a directive of the judge. Once this motion is filed, an “Order to Show Cause” is delivered to the other party.

A hearing is then held, and the person who allegedly violated the judicial order has the opportunity to demonstrate that he or she did comply or had a good reason not to do so. Both sides can testify and submit evidence at this hearing.

If the person is found to be in contempt of court, sanctions can include: fines, fees, transfer of property, jail time, or any penalty that the court deems appropriate.

If the judge orders the person to serve time in jail, that person may request a chance to “cure the problem.” If he or she fails to do so, the other party can request a Revocation Hearing to have the offender jailed. This person will remain in jail until he or she cures the contempt by paying child support or addressing whatever court order was violated.

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Photo of Cynthia J. Brown Cynthia J. Brown

Cynthia Brown is a founding shareholder with the Brown Law Offices, P.A., a northwest Twin Cities divorce and family law firm. She is an honors graduate of the University of South Dakota and William Mitchell College of Law. Cynthia’s practice focuses almost exclusively

Cynthia Brown is a founding shareholder with the Brown Law Offices, P.A., a northwest Twin Cities divorce and family law firm. She is an honors graduate of the University of South Dakota and William Mitchell College of Law. Cynthia’s practice focuses almost exclusively on divorce and family law issues. She publishes a monthly family law column for the Minnesota Lawyer newspaper, and has contributed to Divorce Magazine and The Family Law Forum. Cynthia also serves as a panel attorney for the Anoka County Family Law Clinic.