If a judge ordered you to pay alimony and you fail to pay it, you may be in contempt of court. More often, a spousal support order goes unpaid because someone has difficulty maintaining employment or becomes ill. But sometimes, the bitterness between divorcing spouses is destructive. As a result, the spouse ordered to pay support refuses to pay, even after a family court judge orders them to pay the support and any support arrears. A judge will typically give a spouse who violates an alimony order a chance to fulfill their obligations and will not immediately hold them in contempt of court for not paying support. But after a second or third chance, a court may find a non-paying spouse in contempt of court. Other common contempt of court situations occur when a domestic violence case defendant violates a restraining order, and disobeying a court summons is also contempt. If a judge declares you in contempt of court in New Jersey, know that the penalties for contempt of court can be harsh. They mean to punish those who intentionally violate court orders. In fact, New Jersey makes contempt of court a criminal offense.
Defining Contempt of Court Offenses
New Jersey law defines criminal contempt as willfully disobeying a court order, interfering with the execution of a judicial order, or interfering with the jurisdiction of a court, administrative agency, or investigation unit. The offense is outlined in section N.J.S.A. 2C:29-9 of the criminal statutes.
To Prove Criminal Contempt,
A prosecutor must supply evidence to show that the defendant intentionally defied a valid written or oral order that they knew existed and applied to them. By not complying with the order, they are in contempt of court. In the case of interfering with the execution of an order, the prosecutor must prove that a defendant knew of the valid order and yet purposely hindered, obstructed, or impeded the implementation of a judicial order. Similarly, the prosecutor must prove the defendant knew of the court, administrative agency, or investigation unit having jurisdiction over a person or entity and yet purposely interfered with or otherwise hindered or obstructed the exercise of jurisdiction by the court, administrative agency, or investigation unit.
What is Considered Contempt of a Court Order
A defendant purposely defies an order, hinders execution of an order, or exercises of jurisdiction when they act with design or with knowledge and certainty that their actions will cause an intended result. Thus, a defendant who defies a restraining order forbidding them to contact the plaintiff may be in contempt when they intentionally text the plaintiff with full knowledge that they must not do so. Most often, contempt charges arise in the context of temporary restraining orders or final restraining orders for domestic violence or no contact orders resulting from assault cases. For example, a domestic violence incident may result in one person getting a restraining order against the other to keep them away from the victim’s home or work. Family law court orders are other familiar contempt sources for child support, asset distribution, property division, or spousal support agreements and orders. You can also be in contempt for failing to show up for a court hearing or respond to a court summons.
Other instances of contempt are misbehaving in court, disrespecting a judge during a court session, or otherwise acting disrespectfully during a court session. Thus, a person accused of crimes and facing criminal charges via summons or warrant complaint may be in contempt if they fail to appear in court for their scheduled court date. The contempt that occurs when an individual displays inappropriate behavior in court, like yelling obscenities or not following court rules, is direct contempt. The contempt happens in front of a judge. Indirect contempt occurs outside the courtroom, such as when someone defies a stay-away order, which requires testimonial proof that the contempt occurred.
Criminal Penalties for Contempt Charges
Contempt often occurs in the context of a civil case. As such, defying a support order in a family law divorce, or disobeying visitation orders or other divorce judgment orders are matters of civil contempt. A civil court could order the offending party to pay fines or make financial reparations to the victim of contempt. Alternatively, a judge can sentence a defendant convicted of contempt to jail. Though they may arise in a civil context, the consequences of defying a restraining order in a domestic violence case or any of the courts’ orders are criminal in nature. Criminal contempt, if proven, can lead to imprisonment and heavy financial penalties.
The criminal penalties for a contempt charge range depending on whether the defendant has been charged with a disorderly persons offense or fourth degree indictable crime. For a disorderly persons offense conviction, the defendant could spend up to six months in jail and pay up to $1,000.00 in fines. However, a fourth degree crime conviction could result in up to 18 months in prison and a $10,000.00 fine. A judge could also order community service, license suspension, wage garnishment, and restitution payments to the victim.
What to do if You Have been Charged with Contempt in New Jersey
Since you could go to jail or prison and have a criminal conviction on your record, you should find an experienced criminal defense attorney who regularly handles contempt cases and knows how to successfully defend you in a court of law. Putting yourself in a position to be convicted is ill-advised, particularly if your contempt charges are based on an alleged violation or a protection order. If you have been charged with criminal contempt of court, speak with a dedicated criminal defense lawyer today and find out what can be done to protect your best interests. Call 973-524-7238 or request a free consultation online.