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What is Contempt?

Posted by Kathleen Murphy | Apr 10, 2019

The issue of contempt begins with a valid court order and the party who alleges a violation of an Order must actually file a Motion for Contempt.  

A Motion for Contempt typically alleges that the violating party is in both Civil and Criminal Contempt.  Upon filing for a Motion for Contempt, the party filing the Motion submits paperwork to their assigned judge requesting that an Order to Show Cause be issued.

What is the difference between Civil and Criminal Contempt? In simple terms, the following is a short explanation distinguishing Civil and Criminal Contempt.

Criminal contempt is a punishment for refusing to obey a court order, among other actions and to punish past behavior. Criminal contempt is a punishment with a fine limited to $500.00 and/or jail up to 30 days.  

Civil contempt is intended not to punish the offender but to force present compliance with a court order.  An ongoing violation of a custody order pursuant to an Order of Civil Contempt has jail as the only punishment however the Order must contain a purge provision (which is what a violator must do to get out of jail) The purge condition must be outlined clearly in the contempt Order.   Essentially, it is said that the violator has the "keys to the jail" by complying with the purge condition.

Click Here for UNC School of Government Blog on Contempt

Click Here for Wake County File-It-Yourself Packets

About the Author

Kathleen Murphy

Kathleen Murphy is graduate of North Carolina State University with a B.A. in Political Science, 1985. She attended Campbell University Law School and received her Juris Doctorate, 1988. Ms. Murphy has been a family law attorney for over 30 years and has limited her practice solely to family law since 1988. On October 1, 2023, Kathleen accepted a position as a senior attorney with Triangle Divorce Lawyers and she can be reached at [email protected]. Ms. Murphy is a member of the North Carolina State Bar, North Carolina Bar Association, NCBA Family Law Section Member, is a trained Family Financial Mediator and a trained Child's Advocate. Ms. Murphy is married to a City of Raleigh Firefighter and has four children, three daughters and a son. Ms. Murphy is a contributor to an International podcast. Crime Stories with Nancy Grace is broadcasted daily and you can hear Ms. Murphy's comments on cases involving victims of family crimes and the impact of family court.