How to Address Contempt of Court in Family Law Cases in North Carolina

Understanding Contempt of Court in Family Law

Contempt of court is a serious matter in any legal proceeding, and family law cases are no exception. In North Carolina, when an individual fails to comply with a court order related to family law—such as child support, custody arrangements, or alimony—they may be found in contempt of court. This article aims to provide a clear understanding of how to address contempt of court in family law cases in North Carolina.

Identifying Contempt

Contempt can be classified as either civil or criminal. Civil contempt often involves non-compliance with the court's directives that could be rectified through compliance. For instance, if a parent fails to pay child support, they may be held in civil contempt with the goal of compelling payment. Criminal contempt, on the other hand, involves behavior that disrespects the court or obstructs justice, such as making false statements or disrupting proceedings.

Addressing Contempt Allegations

If you are facing allegations of contempt in a family law case, it's essential to take immediate action. Here are steps you should consider:

  1. Understand the Allegations: Review the contempt citation to understand why you are being accused and what evidence exists against you.
  2. Seek Legal Representation: Contact a family law attorney who is experienced with North Carolina laws to guide you through the process.
  3. Gather Evidence: Compile documents and records that demonstrate your efforts to comply with the court order or explain any inability to comply.
  4. Attend the Hearing: Present your case at the scheduled hearing. Your attorney will help you argue your side and present evidence.

Potential Consequences and Remedies

In North Carolina, consequences for being found in contempt may include fines, jail time, or both. Remedies often include fulfilling the original court order, such as making overdue payments. To illustrate, if a parent has not paid child support as ordered, they might be required to pay the amount owed plus additional fines.

A Historical Perspective

The gravity of contempt charges has been well-established throughout legal history. For example, the 1831 U.S. Supreme Court case of Ex parte Kearney highlighted the inherent powers of courts to punish for contempt as essential to preserving their authority and administering justice effectively.

The Role of Mediation and Settlement

In some cases, mediation may provide a resolution without further court intervention. North Carolina courts encourage dispute resolution through mediated settlement conferences especially in contentious family law matters.


Navigating a contempt of court situation requires prompt action and an understanding of legal obligations and rights. By addressing allegations proactively and working with experienced legal counsel, individuals can mitigate potential consequences and work toward resolving underlying issues.