Enforcement of a court order is done through a process called Contempt. There are two separate types of contempt, and which type applies to your case will depend heavily on the facts of the particular violation.
The first type of contempt is Criminal Contempt. The bases for Criminal Contempt are as follows:
(1) Willful behavior committed during the sitting of a court and directly tending to interrupt its proceedings.
(2) Willful behavior committed during the sitting of a court in its immediate view and presence and directly tending to impair the respect due its authority.
(3) Willful disobedience of, resistance to, or interference with a court’s lawful process, order, directive, or instruction or its execution.
(4) Willful refusal to be sworn or affirmed as a witness, or, when so sworn or affirmed, willful refusal to answer any legal and proper question when the refusal is not legally justified.
(5) Willful publication of a report of the proceedings in a court that is grossly inaccurate and presents a clear and present danger of imminent and serious threat to the administration of justice,made with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false. No person, however, may be punished for publishing a truthful report of proceedings in a court.
(6) Willful or grossly negligent failure by an officer of the court to perform his duties in an official transaction.
(7) Willful or grossly negligent failure to comply with schedules and practices of the court resulting in substantial interference with the business of the court. NC General Statutes – Chapter 5A Article 1 2
(8) Willful refusal to testify or produce other information upon the order of a judge acting pursuant to Article 61 of Chapter 15A, Granting of Immunity to Witnesses.
(9) Willful communication with a juror in an improper attempt to influence his deliberations.
(9a) Willful refusal by a defendant to comply with a condition of probation.
(9b) Willful refusal to accept post-release supervision or to comply with the terms of post-release supervision by a prisoner whose offense requiring post-release supervision is a reportable conviction subject to the registration requirement of Article 27A of Chapter 14 of the General Statutes. For purposes of this subdivision, “willful refusal to accept post-release supervision or to comply with the terms of post-release supervision” includes, but is not limited to, knowingly violating the terms of post-release supervision in order to be returned to prison to serve out the remainder of the supervisee’s sentence.
(10) Any other act or omission specified elsewhere in the General Statutes of
North Carolina as grounds for criminal contempt.
Typically, in Family Court, we are dealing with Criminal Contempt with regard to the willful disobedience of, resistance to, or interference with a court’s lawful process, order, directive, or instruction or its execution (listed as #3, above). Criminal Contempt is designed to punish the offender for their disobedience of the court order. The punishments prescribed by statute are censure, imprisonment, $500 fine, or any combination thereof. When imprisonment is ordered, the judge may suspend the sentence and set conditions of the offending parties’ probationary period, during which if the offender violates any of the conditions, the jail sentence may be activated. When a fine is ordered, that fine is not paid to the opposing party, but instead tendered to the State.
The second type of contempt is civil contempt. In order for a court to find a party in continuing civil contempt, the court must find the following:
(1) The order remains in force;
(2) The purpose of the order may still be served by compliance with the order;
(2a) The noncompliance by the person to whom the order is directed is willful; and
(3) The person to whom the order is directed is able to comply with the order or is able to take reasonable measures that would enable the person to comply with the order
Civil Contempt is designed to compel compliance with the court order. A finding of civil contempt may result in imprisonment, which can continue as long as the contempt continues. This means that the Court must prescribe a purge condition, a means for the contemnor to clear themselves of the contempt, in order for the jail sentence to end. North Carolina statutes prescribe the permissible terms of and method by which imprisonment may be ordered.
If you believe that you need to pursue a contempt action or if you must defend a contempt action, you should speak with an attorney who can advise you as to each form of contempt, and the best approach based on the facts of your particular case.