The Bloomington, IL, family court system handles countless cases each year, many of which revolve around child support disputes and child custody determinations. Each year, nearly $1 billion is distributed in child support orders throughout Illinois, but this amount is often tracked in arrearages, eclipsing $3 billion in 2018 alone. If you are bound to a child support agreement or receive child support from your child’s other parent, it’s vital to know what to do if you encounter issues with your support terms. If a parent required to pay child support fails to do so without a reasonable excuse, they may face contempt of court.

What Is Contempt of Court?

The term “contempt of court” refers to an individual’s willing and intentional disobedience of a lawful court order or an intentional disruption of formal court proceedings. Contempt of court can come into play in criminal cases where defendants become aggressive and hostile, but it can also come into play in family court proceedings when an individual bound by the terms of a family court order willfully disobeys the terms of the order.

The Bloomington, IL, family court system has a legal obligation to ensure that any custody and support determination the court makes suits the best interests of the children it will affect. When a parent bound by a family court order violates their responsibilities or refuses to fulfill them in any way without a reasonable explanation, the other parent has the right to file contempt proceedings against them.

When a parent faces contempt of court, they could face fines, liability for the other parent’s legal fees, and even jail time, depending on the severity of their offense. Some of the most commonly cited reasons for parents to initiate contempt proceedings against their co-parents include:

  • Failure or refusal to pay child support. When a parent owes a child support obligation to their children’s other parent, they must make their payments on time and in full. If they cannot make a payment due to forces beyond their control, they must notify the court and develop a solution to the issue or petition for modification of their support order. If a parent simply refuses to pay child support or fails to pay their support as required without a reasonable explanation, they can face contempt proceedings.
  • Repeated late or incomplete payment of child support. When a parent cannot meet their support obligation, they must file a petition to adjust their support terms or face contempt of court. If a parent repeatedly fails to complete their payments as required and makes no effort to correct the situation or request a reasonable modification, this can lead to contempt of court.
  • Intentional misuse of child support funds. Parents who receive child support are expected to use the funds they receive from paying parents to provide for their children’s day-to-day needs. Since child support funds are intermingled with the receiving parent’s own finances, it can be challenging to determine precisely how child support funds are used, but the assumption is that the receiving parent must satisfy their end of the support obligation and use the funds received from the paying parent to cover the remainder. If a receiving parent fails to ensure their children’s basic needs of food, clothing, shelter, and medical care, the paying parent could file contempt proceedings and hold the receiving parent accountable for neglecting their children’s needs.
  • Violation of custody terms. Parents must abide by their custody terms, even if they do not agree with them or believe them to be unfair. When a parent interferes with a custody order in any way, they can face not only contempt of court but also criminal prosecution depending on the severity of their behavior.
  • Preventing communication between a child and their other parent. For example, if a Bloomington family court order stipulates that a parent has the right to communicate with their child, the child’s other parent must abide by these terms and cannot prevent the other parent from speaking with the child per the terms of the court order.
  • Withholding visitation rights in response to nonpayment of child support. Child support and visitation are related issues but are treated differently. A parent cannot take it upon themselves to withhold the other parent’s visitation rights in response to nonpayment of child support. Instead, they must continue abiding by their visitation terms and seek court action to address the other parent’s nonpayment.

These are some of the most commonly reported reasons behind the contempt proceedings filed in the Bloomington family court system. Whenever a parent faces contempt of court related to their family court order, they can face severe repercussions.

Potential Penalties for Contempt of Court

The punishment for contempt of court in Bloomington typically depends on the nature of the offender’s behavior. For example, if a parent files contempt proceedings against a co-parent due to nonpayment of child support, the court can take several actions to correct the situation. They may garnish the nonpaying parent’s wages to ensure they meet their support obligation, and the nonpaying parent may also face a fine and liability for the other parent’s attorneys’ fees.

If an individual violates a protective order, such as a “no contact” order issued in response to domestic violence, they will very likely go to jail, face heavy fines, and may lose all custody or visitation rights they may have held. In addition, it’s possible to face both civil and criminal penalties for contempt of court in Illinois. Ultimately, anyone beholden to a family court order must abide by the terms of the order or face these penalties. If you disagree with any element of your family court order, there is a legal mechanism in place for you to request a change in the form of the modification process.

Filing a petition for modification of a family court order is relatively straightforward. If you believe you need to alter the terms of your family court order, you must draft a thorough explanation of the change you seek and your reasoning for requesting the change.

For example, if you lost your job and cannot afford child support payments, simply not paying your support obligation could lead to contempt proceedings against you. Instead, notifying the court of your change in circumstances and requesting a reasonable adjustment to your support order can prevent this and provide greater flexibility in managing your support obligation. If you think you need to change your family court order for any reason, or if you believe you have grounds to file contempt proceedings against an ex-spouse or co-parent, it’s vital to consult a Bloomington, IL, family law attorney as soon as possible.