Family Law: Contempt

If a parent fails to comply with residential provisions of a Court-ordered Parenting Plan, the parent who is denied access to the child may initiate a contempt action by filing a motion to coerce the other parent to comply with the Order. The non-complying parent can be sanctioned by the Court by holding the parent in contempt of Court. Upon a showing to the Court that there is reasonable cause to believe the parent has not complied with the Order, the Court may issue an Order To Show Cause why the relief requested should not be granted, and setting the hearing in the next few weeks.

In Washington, a hearing is then held at which the Court makes a determination based on all the facts and circumstances if the parent, in bad faith, has not complied with the Order. If the Court so finds this to be true, an Order is entered that the parent is in contempt of Court, along with other requested relief.

In the contempt Order, the Court can provide the moving party additional time with the child, equal to the time missed with the child; the parent to pay all court costs and reasonable attorneys’ fees incurred; and any reasonable expenses incurred in locating or returning a child; and a civil penalty, not less than the sum of one hundred dollars, to the moving party.

The Court may also Order the parent to be imprisoned in the county jail, if the parent is presently able to comply with the provisions of the Court-ordered Parenting Plan and is presently unwilling to comply. The parent may be imprisoned until he or she agrees to comply with the Order. On a second failure within three years to comply with a residential provision of a court-ordered Parenting Plan, the Court shall Order additional time of at least twice the amount of the time missed with reasonable expenses incurred in locating or returning a child; and a civil penalty to the moving party of not less than two hundred fifty dollars, as well as jail time. If this happens, the non-residential parent can move to change the Parenting Plan and be named the primary residential parent, as well.

Contempt can also be granted for intentionally violating other court orders, such as deliberately not paying child support or spousal maintenance. The Court will not issue a finding of contempt for failure to pay a debt. If the Court enters a finding of contempt, the Court is required to also award reasonable attorney fees.