Texas Law on Contempt in Family Court: What Are the Penalties?

Understanding Contempt in Texas Family Court

In the realm of family law, the term 'contempt of court' refers to the act of disobeying or disrespecting a court's order, which can lead to various penalties. In Texas, as in many states, family courts operate with the intention of facilitating the resolution of domestic disputes and ensuring compliance with judicial decrees concerning matters such as divorce, child support, custody, and visitation.

The Basics of Contempt

When an individual fails to comply with a court order related to family law, they may be found in contempt. There are two types of contempt in Texas: civil and criminal. Civil contempt is geared towards compelling compliance with a court order, while criminal contempt is punitive and seeks to punish the wrongdoer for their defiance.

Penalties for Contempt in Texas Family Court

The penalties for contempt in family court can vary depending on whether the contempt is criminal or civil. For civil contempt, the court may use coercive measures such as ordering fines or even jail time until compliance is achieved. Criminal contempt carries defined penalties that may include fines, incarceration, or both. Typically, a fine for criminal contempt will not exceed $500, and jail time will not exceed six months per violation.

For instance, if an ex-spouse fails to pay child support as ordered by the court, they may be held in contempt. A judge might order them to pay a certain amount by a specific date or face jail time. This is an example of civil contempt because it aims to enforce compliance with the original order.

Contempt Proceedings

To initiate a contempt proceeding in Texas Family Court, a motion must be filed by the party seeking enforcement. The accused party must then be served with notice and given an opportunity to appear in court to contest the allegations. If found in contempt, the accused may appeal the decision.

Enforcement of Orders

Texas Family Courts possess broad authority to enforce their orders through contempt powers. For example, if a parent refuses to adhere to a custody arrangement without a legitimate reason, they can be held in civil contempt and potentially face jail time until they agree to follow the court's orders. The threat of such penalties often serves as a powerful deterrent against noncompliance.

Historical References

In historical cases such as Ex parte Chambers, 898 S.W.2d 257 (Tex. 1995), the Texas Supreme Court has upheld the family courts' right to enforce their orders through contempt proceedings. This case highlighted the importance of adhering strictly to legal procedures during such actions and underscored the gravity of being held in contempt.


Penalties for contempt in Texas Family Court can be severe and should not be taken lightly. Compliance with court orders is crucial for the integrity of the legal system and for upholding individuals' rights within it. Whether you are facing potential contempt charges or seeking enforcement of a court order against someone else, it is advisable to consult with an experienced family law attorney who can guide you through this complex area of law.