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Contempt Order

People find themselves in contempt of court for many different reasons, although all of them have to do with a function of the court itself. Within family law, contempt of court usually occurs when someone violates a civil court order. Courts usually come to this conclusion after examining the filed complaint by the other party or law enforcement and then conducting a formal hearing.

Filing for a motion of contempt against a respondent who refuses to follow through with their legal obligation is a serious action. Typically, courts do not want to place someone in contempt of court unless absolutely necessary. This is especially true in cases where the respondent is a parent. There are legal actions one can perform first before considering filing a motion. If these preliminary steps fail, then filing a motion might make sense.

Sometimes, however, a motion for contempt of court occurs because one party in the order cannot reasonably meet the requirements of a court order. When the contempt hearing begins, the respondent can argue the court order is unreasonable by utilizing evidence from aspects of their life that are impacted by the unfair burden. They can then attempt to convince the judge that modifications are needed to make the court order fair.

Family law is complex. Emotions tend to run high, frustrations seem to increase exponentially, and tension between disputing parties grows as time passes. It doesn’t have to be that way, though. Contacting a qualified Seattle family lawyer can make the process much simpler.

Washington Contempt Orders Attorney in Seattle

When one party in a court order/agreement refuses to follow through with their obligation, the situation can quickly sour. It can be due to unpaid child support or spousal support and in other cases, it’s a failure to meet obligations about spending time with children such as going over the allotted time. In some instances, a person is simply tasked with an unreasonable burden that they can’t meet. Whatever the circumstance is, legal action is necessary to resolve the situation. At Law Offices of Shana E. Thompson, it is our passion to serve individuals and families that are struggling to return a sense of peace and normalcy to their lives. Legal disputes can last much longer than expected, and the mental, emotional, and financial cost can wear down even the strongest-willed person. Our seasoned family law attorneys are devoted to providing tailor-made legal services to fit the exact requirements of your case.

Our legal team is more than just a group of knowledgeable lawyers, it’s a community that values listening and empathizing with our clients, not just making arguments for them. In and out of court, we will advocate for you and your family until the very end.

Contact us today at (206) 712-2756 to schedule a free consultation. Law Offices of Shana E. Thompson serves clients in the Seattle Metropolitan Area including Seattle, Tacoma, Everett, Bellevue, Kent, and many other cities nearby.


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Overview of Contempt Laws in Washington


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Motion for Contempt in Washington

There are multiple kinds of contempt, including contempt for actions committed in a courtroom or violation of a protection order. While these issues can occur in family law cases, the most common scenario for contempt of court order is coercive civil contempt. This means that one person is in violation of a civil court order regarding one or more of its stipulations.

The most common civil court orders in family law related to divorce settlements, child custody, and child support. All of these legal disputes center around court-ordered actions such as conforming to settlement agreements, ensuring a child is accessible to the other party or ensuring the child’s needs are being met through a financial contribution. If one party of the order violates any listed conditions on the order, then a contempt motion can be filed against them.  

Individuals issued a contempt of court order are not automatically labeled as in contempt. They must first undergo a formal hearing where they have an opportunity to explain the situation.


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How to Write a Motion for Contempt of Court

Although there is no specific evidence requirement for filing a contempt motion, the procedure can be expensive and require a lot of evidence for the motion to succeed. Contempt is often considered one of the last resorts in a dispute about a court order.

If you are considering filing a contempt motion, here is a list of things you should consider first:

  • Can you definitively prove that the other party violated the court order?
  • Have you violated the court order in any way?
  • Is the other party fully aware of the court order and its requirements?
  • Is there a good excuse for the other party’s violation?
  • Have you pursued less serious legal actions before filing for contempt?

If you move forward with filing a contempt motion, there is a clearly defined process in Washington law for how to do it. The first thing you have to do is file a motion to seek a contempt hearing, known as a motion to show cause. Then you have to have it approved by the court and get an assigned hearing date. From there, you have to ensure the respondent is served with the order requiring him to appear at the contempt hearing..


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How to Respond to a Motion for Contempt in Washington

If you are facing a contempt motion, the most important action you can take is to seek legal guidance. Depending on the circumstances, you may have a justification for the violation.

For example, if a court-ordered you to pay a set amount of money each month for the support of a child, you may not be able to meet that demand if you lose your job, suffer an injury, or face unexpected expenses. The judge may dismiss the motion because they examined your circumstances and concluded there was no possible way you could make the court-ordered payments. It’s always wise to seek out help from an experienced family law attorney to represent you when you’re facing contempt.

After consulting a lawyer, you may be able to make a valid argument as to why you could not meet the demands set out in the court order. There are plenty of valid defenses, although many of them apply to specific circumstances only.

It is also important to ensure that all relevant documents are gathered for your hearing. When presenting evidence to the judge, you will need all of the information readily available for the court.


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Motion for Contempt in Seattle

Once a motion is filed, and the court orders there to be a contempt hearing, there are several things that must be done for both the petitioner and the respondent. Gathering evidence to make your case, consulting a legal advisor, and developing an argument for the judge will occupy the majority of the preparation work.

On the day of the hearing, the petitioner and the respondent will make their case in front of a family law judge. Both are allowed representation, and it’s highly advised you obtain qualified legal help for this purpose. After the judge has heard both sides of the situation, they will review the evidence and determine a course of action.

If the judge decides that there was no contempt, it is possible that the petitioner will be required to pay the court fees of the respondent. This is usually only done when the judge finds the case to be unreasonable. If the judge determines that the respondent is in contempt of court, there are several possible outcomes:

  • Fines for each continued day in contempt (up to $2000 per day);
  • Requirement to pay the legal fees for the petitioner;
  • Imprisonment;
  • If found in contempt twice or more in a span of three years with respect to parenting, the other parent may be justified in modifying the parenting plan; and
  • Required payment for losses or damages to the petitioner as a result of your violations

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Additional Resources

Washington Law Help Contempt Order – This website is operated by the Northwest Justice Project and provides a wealth of information on many legal topics including family law, and contempt orders in particular. Visit the website to read content in English, Spanish, Arabic, and Chinese, among other languages.

Revised Code of Washington Family Law Contempt Order – This link leads to the official website of Washington state’s legal code. Here you can read the letter of the law itself and understand exactly what the laws are regarding the violation of court orders.


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King County Contempt Order Attorney in Washington

On both sides of the situation, contempt of court is a serious charge. It can represent the continued disregard for the court’s decision, or it could be an example of the court expecting too much from someone that is already struggling. There is room in between those two sides for most of the cases that reach the court.

The lawyers at Law Offices of Shana E. Thompson are dedicated to advocating for the rights of our clients. From the beginning until the end, in and out of court, our seasoned legal team will provide you with a listening ear, a driven focus, and quality legal service that fits the unique circumstances of your case.

Contact us today at (206) 712-2756 to schedule a free consultation and strategy session. Law Offices of Shana E. Thompson serves clients in King County, Pierce County, Snohomish County, Kitsap County, and many other counties in the surrounding area.


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