If someone disobeys or ignores a court order or court rule, they may be acting “in contempt of court” (which is also called “in contempt”).
In Ohio, there are two types of contempt:
- Civil. Civil contempt is when someone intentionally disobeys a court order (like if your ex-spouse decides not to pay required child support). Many cases of contempt in family law are civil. Filing an action for civil contempt is a way to make someone follow the court order. Punishment may include fines, jail time or both. Jail time is unlikely (unless the offense was severe or repeated).
- Criminal. Criminal contempt is more serious than civil contempt. Criminal contempt happens when someone intentionally interferes with the court’s function. Filing for criminal contempt is a way the court punishes someone who disobeys court authority. Punishment for criminal contempt may include fines, jail time or both.
Before filing for contempt
Before you file for contempt:
- Read your court order carefully. Determine if your ex-spouse is disobeying the order. You should be certain your ex is intentionally disobeying the order.
- Try to get your ex-spouse to follow the order without the Court’s help. You may try sending emails, texts or letters asking your ex-spouse to follow the order. You should save copies of all the messages you send. You can use these messages for evidence later.
- Talk to the child support enforcement agency. If your ex-spouse fails to pay required child support, contact the enforcement agency. The agency may hold an administrative hearing. The agency can file for contempt for failure to pay child support.
- Talk to a lawyer. Ask your lawyer if filing for contempt is appropriate in your situation. If you need help finding a lawyer, go to “Legal Help and Lawyers” on this page.
If you decide to file for contempt, you must gather evidence. A lawyer can help you gather effective evidence. You need evidence proving that your ex-spouse:
- Knows about the order. You must prove that your ex-spouse knows about the responsibility.
- Is able to comply with the order. You must prove that it is possible for your ex-spouse to follow the order.
- Lacks a valid excuse for disobeying the order. You must prove that your ex-spouse lacks an excuse. If your ex has a valid excuse (like a huge snowstorm makes it impossible to travel for parenting time), they are likely not considered in contempt.
Filing for contempt
To file for contempt, you must prepare a motion for contempt. A lawyer can help you prepare your motion. The motion should include:
- Details about the original court order. The motion explains the order’s requirements.
- Information about how the other party is disobeying the order. The motion must include an affidavit (sworn statement) explaining how the other party is failing to follow the court’s order.
- If your motion is for unpaid medical expenses, you must include an itemized bill and the Explanation of Healthcare Bills form.
- A request for an Order to Show Cause. The Order to Show Cause commands the other party to attend a court hearing at a specific date and time to defend themselves.
Go to the Motion for Contempt on this site to get the forms you will need to file in Montgomery County Domestic Relations Court.
After filing for contempt
If your ex has low income and is accused of a jailable offense (like failing to pay child support), they may qualify for a public defender to represent them. Or, your ex may hire a private lawyer.
After filing for contempt, you, the other party and your lawyers attend a court hearing to present evidence. The judge decides if there is enough evidence to show that your ex is in contempt.
If the court finds enough evidence to prove that your ex intentionally disobeyed the court order, the court gives consequences to fix the violation (like ordering an extra fine to repay costs, or ordering extra parenting time to make up for missing parenting time). Also, the court may order the person in contempt to pay your legal fees and court costs that were part of the contempt case. The judge states a deadline for completing any consequences and paying any fines.
You still may be responsible for paying debts
If you have debt in your name or shared with your ex-spouse, creditors can hold you legally responsible for payment. Creditors can hold you responsible for payment even if your court order says your ex-spouse is responsible for paying the debt.