What is Divorce Contempt of Court?
Also known as a “Rule Nisi,” proceedings, divorce contempt of court petitions begin when one party brings the other back to court for violations of a divorce decrees (judgments). Before someone can be held in divorce contempt of court for violating a divorce decree, a petition for divorce contempt or “rule nisi” must be filed. Upon a finding of violation of an order, the violating party can be held in civil and/or criminal contempt. The violating party can be sentenced to up to 5 days in jail for each violation, be forced to comply with the court’s orders, and may have to pay the costs and attorney’s fees associated with the action.
For example, if your former spouse was ordered to pay child support or provide medical insurance for the children and they have not done so, they may be help in divorce contempt of court. Alabama courts do not usually keep track of each and every case to make sure each person is abiding by every court order; you must take that person to court for those divorce contempt of court in order to get something done about it. Even failure to pay child support is not something that courts look into without a petition being filed by the party who is being harmed.
Do I have to pay attorney’s fees for the divorce contempt of court proceedings?
Divorce contempt of court proceedings are part of the few areas of civil law where the opposing side may have to pay your attorney’s fees if you are successful in your action. Why should you have to pay an attorney to take a person to court who is violating a court order? Should you have to pay an attorney when they would never have to be in court in the first place unless someone was doing them wrong? The answer is that you will have to pay an attorney up front to take a person to court. You will then have the opportunity during the case to ask the judge to order that the violating party pay your attorney fees. Whether or not a party will have to pay fees, and how much fees they will pay, is entirely up to a judge.
Failure to Pay Child Support as Divorce Contempt
Alabama law considers each month of child support a separate and new court order, and each missed payment a separate divorce contempt. That means that a person can be put in jail for 5 days for each month of missed child support payments. A practical person might say “I want the non-paying person working to pay what they owe, not sitting in jail.” At the end of the day, the goal is to get support for the child or children, not punish the offender and jeopardize their job and your support- however sometimes the threat of incarceration is the only way to make people pay what they owe.
Past-Due Child Support as Divorce Contempt
Past-due child support obligations never go away. One is obligated to pay past-due support even after his or her children are adults. Interest accumulates on past-due support at 12% per year in Alabama. Once you get a judgment on child support owed, you can garnish the payor’s paycheck and take out money owed before they even see it. There is a statute of limitations of twenty years to collect past-due child support. An experienced Alabama divorce attorney can help you figure out the best way to pursue your case.
The Alabama Code section on divorce contempt of court can be found here, in the Alabama Divorce Contempt Code.