Home > Legal > Divorce and Contempt of Court

Divorce and Contempt of Court

By: Lorna Elliott LLB (hons), Barrister - Updated: 21 Apr 2017 |
 
Divorce Contempt Court Order Prison Fine

During divorce court proceedings an individual can be held ‘in contempt of court’. This means that an order has been made against a person, or organisation, that has been disrespectful or disobedient of the court’s authority.

Who Can Be Found to be in Contempt of Court?

The threat of being in contempt of court extends to anyone involved in the court proceedings, such as journalists who are reporting on a court case, claimants, defendants, lawyers, witnesses or anyone else. The most common reasons for being found in contempt of court are:
  • Disobedience of a court order
  • Publishing material that could jeopardise the prospect of a fair trial
  • Disrupting the proceedings in some way, such as heckling from the public gallery, swearing, or allowing your mobile telephone to go off in court (some judges will put someone in the cells if this happens even once in court)

What Happens When Someone is Found in Contempt of Court?

A judge has a wide discretion to determine how to deal with contempt of court. Often an individual will be taken down to the cells, or an organisation (such as a newspaper) will be given a fine.

In divorce proceedings, the behaviour that often leads to a finding of contempt of court is something that one of the parties to the proceedings does. In order to be found in contempt of court, you must be present at the hearing when the judge rules that you are ‘in contempt of court’. To establish whether or not you are in contempt, the judge will have to consider whether you were aware of what the law is, whether you knew what effect your actions (or failure to act) would have on the proceedings, and whether you deliberately meant to disregard the order or break the law.

High Court Proceedings

If your divorce is being heard in the High Court, you could be found in contempt if you fail to attend court despite there having been a subpoena issued to secure your attendance. This could result in the police being instructed to arrest you after the judge orders a ‘bench warrant’.

In reality, you may be able to avoid being arrested and brought to court by police if you write the court a grovelling letter of apology giving reasons as to why you failed to attend.

Failing to Comply With a Court Order

If you fail to comply with a court order, and the order warns you that failing to comply may result in you being sent to prison, proceedings can be brought against you. While it is possible that you could theoretically be sent to prison, it is more likely that you could be fined, or that proceedings are dropped with the right apology.

If there is an injunction in place preventing disclosure of a document, and you go ahead and give it to the press, for example, you could also be found in contempt of court.

For more information on divorce proceedings, read our articles Divorce And Perjury and Divorce And Perverting The Course Of Justice on this site.

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Dee - Your Question:
I and my husband made a decision to relocate our family from Edinburgh to aberdeen due to my eldest getting into a bad social circle. My husband changed his mind the next day and left the family home. I continued with the plan to move as this was in the best interest for my kids. I moved then my ex served me papers for court with a interdict stopping me moving but I had already moved and now supposedly I'm in contempt of court. My lawyer has told me if I don't move back then my ex husband will get the children. I am in able to return as we will have no home and the kids no longer have there place in schools and nursery. The are settled and enjoying there new schools/Nursery's and we have my whole family as support. My lawyer has said I am going to lose my kids next week as I broke the law. I 100% did not know I had to apply to court to move a little over 2 hours away. Please can someone help am I really going to lose my children. Thank you

Our Response:
I'm afraid this is beyond our remit to advise. Scottish family law may be different to English ones, so this makes it impossible to predict what a court may decide. We certainly couldn't contradict your lawyer's advice as he/she is much more familiar with the circumstances. But, a further professional opinion may be helpful here.
SeparatedDads - 21-Apr-17 @ 2:24 PM
I and my husband made a decision to relocate our family from Edinburgh to aberdeen due to my eldest getting into a bad social circle. My husband changed his mind the next day and left the family home. I continued with the plan to move as this was in the best interest for my kids. I moved then my ex served me papers for court with a interdict stopping me moving but I had already moved and now supposedly I'm in contempt of court. My lawyer has told me if I don't move back then my ex husband will get the children. I am in able to return as we will have no home and the kids no longer have there place in schools and nursery. The are settled and enjoying there new schools/Nursery's and we have my whole family as support. My lawyer has said I am going to lose my kids next week as I broke the law. I 100% did not know I had to apply to court to move a little over 2 hours away. Please can someone help am I really going to lose my children. Thank you
Dee - 21-Apr-17 @ 1:03 AM
I think my husband may of filed for divorce and forged my signature. We live together,says he loves me. We are approaching out 10 yr mark and I will be entitled to half his retirement then. I keep seeing in our search browser my divorce papers login. As well as when to send out wedding announcements. Gifts for groomsman,the Knot and wedding registry at Bed Bath and beyond. How do I find out,I think he did it outside of Colorado where we live.
Anna - 6-Jan-17 @ 10:48 AM
I failed to attend a court order child modication and the judge placed a warrant with a 4000 sure pay. What can i do to rwmove the warrant if i am unable to pay???
Gabe - 13-Jun-16 @ 8:40 PM
I am in the midst of a divorce proceedings. I wonder ifyou know any case laws in the UK that contempt of court on child custody resulted a judgement / punishments being decided? Would be great if I can have the case name and references directions if possible. This will tremendously help for me to get the case moving and the services needed. Thanks.
Vince - 29-Apr-16 @ 10:15 AM
Breezer - Your Question:
My ex husband divorced me whilst I was vulnerable. Due to an accident at work, I was left disabled and for pain relief took oramorph. I'm free of oramorph, divorce in 2012, and have found an asset that he hid in his mistresses name and boss. He claimed on the Internet that he was a resident of the property but on the form E he used an address that we rented out. In court under oath, he told the judge he had nothing to do with the other house and merely put two people together. I have managed to get the planning application for the house, and his signature is on it. Is this a clear case of perjury etc.

Our Response:
I can't advise directly. Your only option to see whether this can be followed up would be to consult a solicitor who can analyse the documents and evidence to see if you have a case to answer.
SeparatedDads - 2-Mar-16 @ 1:57 PM
My ex husband divorced me whilst I was vulnerable. Due to an accident at work, i was left disabled and for pain relief took oramorph. I'm free of oramorph, divorce in 2012, and have found an asset that he hid in his mistresses name and boss. He claimed on the Internet that he was a resident of the property but on the form E he used an address that we rented out. In court under oath, he told the judge he had nothing to do with the other house and merely put two people together. I have managed to get the planning application for the house, and his signature is on it. Is this a clear case of perjury etc.
Breezer - 1-Mar-16 @ 10:49 PM
@SeparatedDads.Ref my last, I am in the UK. Lancashire.
scas - 18-Dec-15 @ 8:14 AM
scas - Your Question:
Me and my wife of 7 years split recently. She left the marital home to reside with her sister. I stayed at the family home with our 2 children. We had agreed that she would see the children every night after school till 7pm and alt weekends. On her first weekend seeing the children she failed to turn up on one of the days. The previous day I had to report her to the police for treating to have me arrested and have my locks drilled out of my home because she had wanted a dress and pair of shoes to go for a night out that evening. This had a massive effect on the kids, and they were hurt by her not collecting them. I began thinking it had something to do with the fact I HAD PAID to go to mediation and put a child arrangements order into court earlier that week. I told her sister that if she was going to use the kids as a weapon because she did not like the fact I had made the first move in the interest of the children then maybe it would be best if I arranged contact center for her so the children would not be hurt again. Again this did not go down very well. She turned up to my property with the police the following day (I requested due to threats) to collect the rest of her belongings. That resulted in her removing all the children's clothes, police said cival matter. The next day I informed the school that she might try to remove them but thay told me without an order they couldn't stop her. I then went to social services who told me the same and cival matter? If the shoe had been on the other foot I would have been arrested and charged with breach of the peace?? I have since found out she has relocated herself and my children across the country to a women's refuge claiming DV and I do not have any contact with them what so ever as she will not respond, changed mobile number, ect. I have parental responsibility which she is denying me of. Surely thats against the law? I have now been to 3 court hearings which she has not attended any of. My question is this. If the children were already stable i.e school, support, health, ect and she is clearly not bothered about the courts orders to attend. Why is it taking so long to get things sorted out? I do understand that my needs are not important but the childrens are. The longer this is allowed to go on the more I feel it will be unfair to remove them back to my care as I want to disrupt them as little as possible so they dont get/feel hurt. I put all my trust into the justice system which seems to be failing me as far as im concerned. And she is able to do as/what she wants regardless with no consequences.

Our Response:
I am sorry to hear this. I'm afraid as we are a UK-based website dealing in only UK-based family law, we can't answer your question. However, I hope some of our other readers might and I hope you manage to sort these issues out soon.
SeparatedDads - 17-Dec-15 @ 2:17 PM
Me and my wife of 7 years split recently. She left the marital home to reside with her sister. I stayed at the family home with our 2 children. We had agreed that she would see the children every night after school till 7pm and alt weekends. On her first weekend seeing the children she failed to turn up on one of the days. The previous day i had to report her to the police for treating to have me arrested and have my locks drilled out of my home because she had wanted a dress and pair of shoes to go for a night out that evening. This had a massive effect on the kids, and they were hurt by her not collecting them. I began thinking it had something to do with the fact I HAD PAID to go to mediation and put a child arrangements order into court earlier that week. I told her sister that if she was going to use the kids as a weapon because she did not like the fact i had made the first move in the interest of the children then maybe it would be best if i arranged contact center for her so the children would not be hurt again. Again this did not go down very well. She turned up to my property with the police the following day (I requested due to threats) to collect the rest of her belongings. That resulted in her removing all the children's clothes, police said cival matter. The next day i informed the school that she might try to remove them but thay told me without an order they couldn't stop her. I then went to social services who told me the same and cival matter? If the shoe had been on the other foot i would have been arrested and charged with breach of the peace??Ihave since found out she has relocated herself and my children across the country to a women's refuge claiming DV and i do not have any contact with them what so ever as she will not respond, changed mobile number, ect. I have parental responsibility which she is denying me of. Surely thats against the law? I have now been to 3 court hearings which she has not attended any of.My question is this... If the children were already stable i.e school, support, health, ect and she is clearly not bothered about the courts orders to attend. Why is it taking so long to get things sorted out? I do understand that my needs are not important but the childrens are. The longer this is allowed to go on the more i feel it will be unfair to remove them back to my care as i want to disrupt them as little as possible so they dont get/feel hurt. I put all my trust into the justice system which seems to be failing me as far as im concerned. And she is able to do as/what she wants regardless with no consequences.
scas - 16-Dec-15 @ 7:31 PM
My ex wont bring my 4 yr old son home after hes had him for the week. I have been to court twice before and obtained a court order saying he must bring him back or could be in contempt. The judge got him to sign an undertaking to the court that he would always return him but continues to break the promise and now with school approaching threatens to keep him,stating safeguarding issues as the reason. This isnt the first time this has happened. I am desperate and very stressed about the whole thing. Please help!
christie - 28-Aug-15 @ 8:29 PM
@JG - please see link Breach of Contact or Residence Order: What to Do here. I hope this helps.
SeparatedDads - 24-Jun-15 @ 1:51 PM
Hi3 weeks ago I was in court, fighting to have access to my children. My EX made some horribly false accusations. For now I was allowed to write to the children and that the mother would email me updates every 2 weeks with photos. This was stipulated by the judge. I have sent the children a letter and had it sent recorded delivery, the mother has not accepted this letter and is sat at the post office waiting for her to collect it. She has also sent no emails or updates. During this 3 week period I have head nothing on my son's 2nd birthday and recieved nothing on fathers day. Is this classed as contempt of court on 2 counts? If so what would the likely punishment be?
JG - 22-Jun-15 @ 12:02 PM
@Sal - sorry to hear this. Yes, in order to avoid the hefty legal costs you can self-litigate, see link Legal Aid Withdrawal: How to Represent Yourself here. You can also apply for the help of a McKenzie Friend to help you with your case, see link: Using a McKenzie Friend in Court, link here. You will need to make sure your case is well-researched, as a professionally presented case means you are not wasting court time. As your ex is in breach then it is important you take it back to court in order to get the result you need and want. An application for an enforcement order, or for financial compensation, can be made using form C79, which may also be downloaded from the HMCS website. The application may be made to the court which made the contact order or to any court which has the power to deal with family cases. I hope this helps.
SeparatedDads - 30-Apr-15 @ 11:49 AM
The court offered me Contect to my childrenbut my ex said only supervised and that I would have to pay 50 pounds an hour to which I said that I could not afford it, that court kept the option open. After leaving the court I found an organisation who offered me free 6 visits which would have seen me till the next court date but my ex refused the visits.she is in contempt of court but if I were to take her back to court I would have to pay about 200 pounds court fees which I can not afford. Is there any way I can take her to court without it costing me. My case is due to be heard in 2 months time, I have not seen my children since December, please can anyone HELP
Sal - 27-Apr-15 @ 3:29 PM
@Rick - this is a bit of a tricky situation and one that really can't be advised on because there could be a variety of outcomes to this arrangement. Due to the fact you are married, your wife does have legal rights to your house (even though it may have your name on the deeds, it is theoretically owned by both of you). However, if she wanted to, then yes she could make things difficult. I can only say there is no right or wrong answer to this question, but I would proceed with caution. Can't you just request that you have your sons over more often? Plus, you need to ask yourself; do you really want your wife to move back in? There are a lot of questions to be answered truthfully by yourself here, so I would make sure any decisions you make are made very carefully.
SeparatedDads - 6-Mar-15 @ 11:07 AM
I"ve been separated, and lived separately, from my wife and two young sons for 3 1/2 years now. the marital home, where i still live, is mortgaged solely in my name (long story).. I desperately miss my sons, barely seeing them once a week, and i'm considering both my sons and wife moving back to the house. My Wife and i get on ok-ish but would sleep in separate rooms.. My worry is; me having been convicted for a section 18 offence against both my Wife and a trusty mate of mine, after them becoming real good friends 3 1/2 years ago… Once my Wife and my Sons move back in, could she at any point, use the past situation for her benefit and either change locks or have me removed from, what is on the Deeds, my house? Your advice would be much appreciated.
Rick - 3-Mar-15 @ 2:30 AM
@Jim - have you seen our site When Your Ex-Partner Denies you Access link here . It gives some advice on exactly what you can do. If you are an ex-husband with parental responsibility and your children don’t live with you, the other parent still needs to keep you updated about their well-being and progress. It sounds like you need to get some legal advice. I hope this helps.
SeparatedDads - 4-Nov-14 @ 10:54 AM
My ex wife has is denying me access to my two daughters, I have no visitation or contact via telephone. She has also moved house and will not give me the new address. Does she have to inform me of their location and also what can I do now? Thanks, Jim.
Jim - 3-Nov-14 @ 10:07 AM
@Troll saga, if you are still married and her name is still on the mortgage then she is legally allowed to enter the property, with or without you being present, therefore you cannot change the locks.
Phil - 10-Sep-14 @ 9:42 AM
Hi my ex partner and I have been separated for over 7 years now but still lived in the same house.She moved out two months ago and had stopped paying the mortgage before moving out, I am still living in the house and paying her shortfall in mortgage arrears.I know she is having a key still and recording the law she is still entitled to come in their house but is this legal if she is coming in my absence?I have changed the locks and she is threatening to break in and change the locks.She has little to take from the house as she has already taken most things without consultation. Am I within my rights to not give her a key to come and go as she pleases ???
Troll Saga - 10-Sep-14 @ 3:15 AM
what are the consequences if a court order is issued and incorporates a limit on a person being entitled to occupy a property and the personfails to vacate once the limit has been reached.
willo - 29-Aug-14 @ 4:07 PM
Hi my partner is separated with his wife for over years now. She moved out and him with me and my son are living in their house. I know she is having a key still and recording the law she is still entitled to come in their house but is this legal if she is coming in our absence although im living there too???
tina76 - 3-Aug-14 @ 1:31 AM
My husband has just petitioned me for a divorce on the grounds of seperation, and and on the court form he ticked a box to say our marriage has never been the subject of a court case. In fact I already petitioned him for a divorce and was granted a decree nisi on the grounds of unreasonable behavior in 2009 I did not apply for the decri absolute as Iwas not emotionally strong enough. I hope to get legal advicetomorrow but wondered if you can give any advice? Should I contact the court or apply for the absolute? Thank you Lulu
Lulu - 15-Jul-14 @ 5:08 AM
What will happen if you lied and said your husbanddeserted you and he didn't and you were granted a divorcebecause you wanted out of the marriage because of something he did to you, will that person go to jail?
Baby - 14-Jul-14 @ 6:18 AM
How long do I wait for a court order to be fulfilled.
bam - 24-Jan-13 @ 12:29 PM
In the County Court 'contempt' is a matter for the judge so the litigants to the substantive issue would NOT usually make such an application. The judge would make the decision himself based on his understanding of the case. In Family Proceedings it is very unusual for an order for contempt to be made but the laws were changed so that if the judge feels somebody is in contempt they may be taken to the cells directly but this would again be in extreme circumstances after several verbal warnings. The usual procedure is for the other side to apply for an INJUNCTION ORDER and when this is broken apply to court again for sentencing.
Kip - 6-Oct-11 @ 9:35 AM
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