What are the Requirements & Procedure for Contempt?
What is Required for Contempt?
1) The initiating party must have proper standing to enforce the court's order through a contempt action. What this means is that the party initiating the action for contempt must be the former spouse or parent awarded the child support, alimony, division of property, child custody or other award.
2) The initiating party must show that the offending party has failed to comply with the court's order. This element is generally proven by the initiating party showing that the offending party did not fulfill his or her obligation, like providing the court with cancelled checks showing that the offending party did not pay his or her full amount of child support.
3) It must be shown that the offending party's failure to comply was willful. This element is generally proven by showing that the offending party had the means to fulfill his or her obligation but willingly chose not to. For example, if it is shown that the offending party is employed and makes sufficient income to fulfill his or her child support obligation but willfully chooses not to, he or she may be found in contempt of court.
The Contempt Process: Step by Step
However, before it becomes necessary to prove any of the above 3 elements, the party choosing to enforce a court's order must actually initiate the action for contempt. Generally, an action for contempt must be brought in the same court that entered the initial order. However, another Georgia court may obtain jurisdiction (or authority and ability to hear the case) to enforce the order of another court through a contempt action if a party petitions that court to modify the order.
A party may actually initiate an action for contempt by serving the offending party with the motion for contempt personally, similar to how a complaint for divorce is served on a defendant. A defendant or respondent in an action for contempt is entitled to reasonable notice of any hearing on the matter, and he or she is also entitled to an opportunity to be heard at any hearing on the motion for contempt. In essence, what this means is that the offending party must have an opportunity to defend himself/herself.
Answer & Contempt Defenses
Once a party has been served with a motion for contempt, he or she has thirty (30) days to answer or to respond to the motion. Upon responding to a motion for contempt, a defendant may either lodge a defense or he or she may purge the contempt by complying with the court's order and remedying any past due support obligations. The defendant responds by filing an answer. The answer may contain defenses against the contempt action. For more information regarding the several defenses against actions for contempt, see our article titled "Contempt: Defenses."
If the offending party complies with the court order and remedies any past due obligations, he or she will effectively purge themself of the contempt citation. On the other hand, if the defendant in the contempt action chooses to lodge a defense, a hearing on the matter will be set. At the hearing the defendant must ultimately show that either there was no failure to comply with the order or that any non compliance was not willful. If the defendant can prove that, they can successful defend against the contempt. If not, the defendant will be found in contempt and could suffer sanctions, wage garnishment or even jail in some cases. It's important to remember that contempt actions are often complex matters that involve both parties putting forth evidence to prove their case. Obtaining this evidence often involves undergoing the discovery process and enlisting the aid of experts for analysis and testimony.