Contempt of court — Was the violation willful?
This is a follow-up blog to an article we wrote on September 16 that answered the question of what it means to be held in contempt of court. We suggest you read that post, as it is chock full of useful information.
Today’s article will stick to the topic of contempt, but focus on what it means to prove there was a willful violation.
What does willful mean?
A willful violation constitutes a deliberate act as opposed to accidental or inadvertent. In everyday life, it’s the equivalent of one of my son’s walking up behind the other and purposely stepping on his untied shoe strings to make him trip. That’s a deliberate act. Conversely, if they were walking side by side and one happened to step on the other’s untied shoe strings, perhaps the ensuing fall couldn’t be considered a deliberate tripping. Clumsy? Yes. Deliberate? No.
It’s the same in a court of law.
More often than not, it is very easy to prove someone violated a court order on purpose. Either they directly disobeyed a judge in his or her presence and are immediately held in contempt, or they did so outside the courtroom by refusing to obey a court order. An example of this would be refusing to obey a child-support order or order of possession or access of a child.
But there are those every-once-in-a-while situations where it’s not as obvious. If one parent actively impedes the visitation rights of another parent in a possession or access case, then that is a willful violation. On the other hand, if the visitation schedule wasn’t clearly defined, or there were extenuating circumstances that prevented the supposed “at-fault” parent from meeting the agreed-upon requirements, then that is not a willful violation.
To hold a party in criminal contempt for violating a court order, a movant must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the other party’s actions were willful. In the case of civil contempt, a movant must prove beyond a preponderance of the evidence. In each case, the accused party must be given proper notice and be allowed to defend themselves against the accusations.
It is always a good idea to talk to a lawyer about your situation. Give Nelson Law Group, PC a call. Our friendly staff is here to help you in any way we can. For more information about Brett A Nelson, click here.