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Violations of Court Orders: Enforcement, Contempt, and Punitive Sanctions.


In Family Law, often a party does not comply with the Court's Order. When that happens, what can be done? In Washington there are a variety of legal remedies to compel enforcement, impose contempt, or otherwise punish a party for violations of a valid Court Order.

Contempt of Court for Child Support and Parenting Plan Violations:

Contempt is a serious remedy that is often used in the context of violations of a Child Support Order or a Parenting Plan. Bringing a contempt motion should be carefully considered. When a parent fails to pay child support (usually a repeat violation), pursuing contempt might be appropriate. For parenting plans, when a parent withholds the child, refuses to allow visitation, does not allow access to the child, or violates any number of provisions in the plan, contempt may be appropriate. Since contempt is a serious matter, it is often prudent to send a noncompliance letter (or some other form of notice), prior to seeking contempt sanctions. This will provide the offending party an opportunity to cure or otherwise resolve the situation short of court action.

RCW 7.21.010

  1. "Contempt of court" means intentional:

(a) Disorderly, contemptuous, or insolent behavior toward the judge while holding the court, tending to impair its authority, or to interrupt the due course of a trial or other judicial proceedings;

(b) Disobedience of any lawful judgment, decree, order, or process of the court;

(c) Refusal as a witness to appear, be sworn, or, without lawful authority, to answer a question

Child Support:

  • Consequences of Child Support not being paid:

  • If a parent is found in contempt, in addition to paying upon the support that is owed, the parent may liable for monetary sanctions (including, but not limited to costs and attorney fees), liens assessed against property/accounts or even seized, wages garnished, licenses suspended, and even, in the most extreme situations, the parent is sent to jail.

Parenting Plan:

  • Consequences of Parenting Plan being violated:

  • If a parent is found in contempt, remedies can include make up visitation, monetary sanctions (including, but not limited to costs and attorney fees), and again, in the most extreme cases, even jail time. Furthermore, if a parent has been found to be in contempt for violating residential provisions twice in a 3 year time period, the parenting plan may be modified.

Restraining Order: This is a civil order, generally filed in the context of an existing family law case, such as a pending dissolution or child custody case. This type of order is different from a Domestic Violence Protection Order since it may deal with property, parenting plan, spousal or child support, as well as domestic violence issues.

  • Consequences of Violation of Order:

  • Contempt and/or monetary sanctions, including, but not limited to costs and attorney fees, amendment of the order violated to include harsher restrictions or restraints, and even possible criminal charges.

Domestic Violence Protection Order: This is a civil order from the Court issued at the request of a person claiming to be the victim of domestic violence.

  • Consequences of Violation of Order:

  • Possible criminal charges or contempt. If criminal charges are pursued, this may include Class C felony if there is an assault or reckless endangerment, otherwise a Gross Misdemeanor.

Sexual Assault Protection Order: This is a often a civil order from the Court (but can also be done in the context of a criminal action).

  • Consequences of Violation of Order:

  • Possible criminal charges or contempt. If criminal charges are pursued, Class C felony if there is an assault or reckless endangerment, otherwise a Gross Misdemeanor.

Anti-Harassment Order: This is a civil order issued for a person claiming any type of harassment and when a person does not qualify for a Domestic Violence Protection Order. These orders are commonly filed in disputes that don’t involve a domestic relationship.

  • Consequences of Violation of Order:

  • Possible criminal charges or contempt. If criminal charges are pursued, may likely involve a Gross Misdemeanor.

Family law litigation can be emotionally difficult and complex. Decisions made about each step of the litigation can affect you for many years. We have years of experience helping our clients through the difficulty of enforcing violations of court order, and can help you through the process. Contact us today at (253) 838 – 3377 or email at office@bainslawfirm.com to talk about your case.

Disclaimer: All materials provided on this website have been prepared by Bains Law Firm for general information purposes only and no representation is made as to their completeness or accuracy. Information on this website is not intended as legal advice, and may not be relied upon as such. Only an attorney who can review the unique facts of each case and apply them to the statutes, case law and court rules can provide legal advice. Nothing in this website shall be construed to create an attorney-client relationship.

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