What is contempt of court?

What is contempt? Simply put, contempt is willful disobedience of a court order.

You might be more familiar with contempt in the context of disobedience in the courtroom– picture Al Pacino in And Justice for All screaming “You’re out of order! You’re out of order! The whole trial is out of order! They’re out of order!” 

But that’s not the kind of contempt you’re most likely to experience in real life. 

In the real world, contempt comes up when someone doesn’t do what they’re supposed to according to a court order. Say for example your former spouse doesn’t pay the alimony that was awarded. Or maybe your child’s other parent refuses to exchange custody. Then what?

In Nevada, the court has the authority to compel obedience to its orders. It can do this by entering a judgment for monies that haven’t been paid, plus interest, which can then be collected in the same way a creditor can collect a judgment- for example, by garnishing wages or seizing certain assets. If the violation of the court order involves custody, the court might award “make up” visitation for the time that was missed with your child. A court can also punish someone who is found in contempt by ordering them to pay expenses and attorneys fees for the other party. 

This means that when someone isn’t following a court order, you can request that the court enforce the order. This is done with what is called a Motion for Order to Show Cause. It’s called that because you are requesting that the court require the party not following the order to appear and “show cause” why they should not be held in contempt of court. The other party has the opportunity to defend themselves. That’s due process. 

An effective defense would be that they simply weren’t able to follow the court order. For example, they couldn’t pay alimony because they were unemployed. This doesn’t mean they don’t still have to pay what is owed, just that they can’t be held in contempt of court. 

There are many reasons a person might need to request that the court enforce its orders. It is usually best practice to try to resolve the issue with the other person first and avoid unnecessary litigation. If that doesn’t work, you may want to talk to an attorney about your options for court intervention. 

In the next few weeks, we’ll be discussing civil contempt in a bit more detail.   If you have general questions about contempt that you would like to see answered here, please send them to info@petronilaw.com. If you need help with your case, you should contact a Nevada licensed attorney. Feel free to call or shoot us a text. 

Gloria Petroni is a licensed Nevada Attorney with over 40 years of experience. She is a family law specialist and practices in the areas of family law, probate and estate planning. This article is meant to be informative. It is not a substitute for legal advice. Every case is different. If you have questions about your case, you should contact a Nevada licensed attorney. We would love to hear from you. 

At Petroni Law Group, our goal is to provide each and every client with an unobstructed view of all aspects of a case by aiding in informed decision-making and clear understanding of possible outcomes.

Contact Info
5595 Kietzke Lane, Suite 114
Reno, NV 89505