Missouri Law Involving Contempt of Court

Below is some Missouri law involving contempt of court. This summary includes some relevant statutes and applicable case law.  These are just some examples of reported cases on this topic.

Because the facts of every circumstance is different, it is vital to consult with an attorney regarding any particular circumstance.  However, this summary does help provide some important information on this topic.

Elements of a Contempt Case and Punishment

Stuart v. Ford, 292 S.W.3d 508 (Mo. App. S.D. 2009):

i. To establish a prima facie case of civil contempt, the complaining party must prove the following:

1. The contemnor's obligation to perform an action as required by the decree, and

2. The contemnor's failure to meet the obligation.

ii. Once a prima facie case of contempt is established, the alleged contemnor bears the burden of proving that he is financially unable to pay and that the inability to pay is not the consequence of his own intentional and contumacious conduct.

RSMo 476.110 Acts constituting contempt of court

Every court of record shall have power to punish as for criminal contempt persons guilty of:

(1) Disorderly, contemptuous or insolent behavior committed during its session, in its immediate view and presence, and directly tending to interrupt its proceeding or to impair the respect due to its authority;

(2) Any breach of the peace, noise or other disturbance directly tending to interrupt its proceedings;

(3) Willful disobedience of any process or order lawfully issued or made by it;

(4) Resistance willfully offered by any person to the lawful order or process of the court;

(5) The contumacious and unlawful refusal of any person to be sworn as a witness, or, when so sworn, to refuse to answer any legal and proper interrogatory.

RSMo 476.120 Punishment for contempt

Punishment for contempt may be by fine or imprisonment in the jail of the county where the court may be sitting, or both, in the discretion of the court.

RSMo 476.130 May be punished summarily, when

Contempt committed in the immediate view and presence of the court may be punished summarily; in other cases the party charged shall be notified of the accusation, and have a reasonable time to make his defense.

Contempt of Court for Unpaid Child Support

Stuart v. Ford, 292 S.W.3d 508 (Mo. App. S.D. 2009):

The Southern District affirmed the trial court's finding that Father was in contempt of court for failure to pay child support, with his arrearages totaling $42,982.00. Father was able to earn substantially more than he reported. Father quit his job as a trucker and did not seek work for over two years. Subsequently, he did find a trucking job but was paid in cash under the table, and the company did not keep receipts. He lived rent free in a house owned by his father and did not have a bank account or credit card.

The court found that Mother met her burden of proof in establishing a prima facie case that Father was ordered to pay child support and that he had failed to do so. Once Mother made a prima facie case of contempt, the burden shifted to Father to establish that he was unable to pay and that his inability to pay was not intentional or contumacious. The trial court found Father's testimony to lack credibility regarding his various excuses related to his "physical disability, family matters and lack of suitable employment."

Contempt of Court for Unpaid Spousal Support

Hall v. Hall, 53 S.W.3d 214 (Mo. App. S.D. 2001):

The Southern District reversed the trial court's finding that Husband was in contempt for his failure to pay spousal support. In Hall, Wife filed a motion for contempt for Husband's failure to pay certain debts and his ceasing of maintenance payments. Evidence supported Husband's contention that he did not have the ability to purge himself from contempt. His monthly expenses exceeded his income, and he sold a share of stock in an effort to raise money to pay off debt. The case further turned on the fact that Wife had remarried and was ineligible for maintenance.

Contempt of Court for Failure to Refinance

Ream-Nelson v. Nelson, 2010 WL 4607403 (Mo. App. W.D. 2010):

The Western District affirmed the trial court's finding that Father was not in contempt of court for failing to refinance the marital home. Father was obligated to refinance the home pursuant to the dissolution decree and remove Mother's name, and he openly admitted his failure to do so. Father bore the burden of demonstrating that his failure to perform was not due to his own intentional and contumacious conduct. In doing so, he alleged financial difficulties, debt to the IRS, and having too high of an income-debt ratio to refinance. The trial court found this testimony to be credible, and the appellate court affirmed this credibility determination as not against the weight of the evidence.

Contempt of Court for Violation of Custody Order

Basham v. Williams, 239 S.W.3d 717 (Mo. App. S.D. 2007):

The Southern District affirmed the trial court's finding that Father was not in contempt for failing to follow the custodial schedule. Father admitted that, in the sixteen months prior to the proceeding below, the minor child had not seen Mother for all but a period of three months. The burden then shifted to Father to show that his failure to meet the obligation was not due to his own intentional and contumacious conduct. Father testified that he always encouraged the minor child to visit Mother on the scheduled dates, but that he did not want to go. Based on this testimony, the trial court did not believe Father's testimony to be intentional and contumacious. The appellate court noted that Mother had other remedies available to her, such as filing a Family Access Motion.

Contempt Excused Based on Good Faith Judgment of Parent

In re C.N.H., 998 S.W.2d 553 (Mo. App. S.D. 1999)

Father filed motion to modify custody, and mother responded by denying visitation by father. Mother claimed sexual abuse by father and took the child to the doctor for an examination. However, Mother did not present abuse accusations to the trial court and permitted father to resume visitation after he moved for temporary custody and a contempt citation. The Southern District eluded that it would not have found Mother in contempt if she would have gone forward with her accusations of abuse.

Change in Contempt Law

State ex rel. Family Support Div.- Child Support Enforcement v. Lane, 313 S.W.3d 182 (Mo. App. W.D. 2010):

Where the consequence of contempt is jail time, the trial court must advise the alleged contemptor that he/she has the right to a court appointed attorney if he/she is unable afford one and is found indigent.

Jurisdiction in Contempt Cases for Appeals

Jones v. Jones, 296 S.W.3d 526 (Mo. App. W.D. 2009):

A civil contempt order must be final to be appealed. "An order finding a party in contempt is interlocutory only and not final for purposes of appeal until it is actually enforced. . . . A contempt order is enforced either when the moving party executes on it, or, in the case of imprisonment, when the court issues an order of commitment. Once a trial court has issued an order of commitment, then the contempt order changes from mere threat to 'enforcement,' and becomes final and appealable."

Apart from these examples above, you can find out more information about contempt cases on our website.  You also might read about family access motions as it relates to the denial of custody and visitation or parental kidnapping in cases where a parent has unlawfully fled with children.

Keywords: Contempt of Court, Show Cause Order