North carolina contempt of court misdemeanor

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For the NCAA college athletics sanction of a similar name, see show-cause penalty. Hill; Kathleen T. The Free Dictionary by Farlex. Retrieved April 9, Categories : Court orders. However, if the parents have agreed that one party will pay for college, and that agreement has become part of a decree, if the obligated party fails to pay for college the agreement can be enforced with a contempt order. Contempt proceedings are most commonly brought when a party fails to comply with child support and visitation orders, but as seen above in the Watson case they can also be brought to enforce equitable distribution orders.

Whether a party is capable of doing something is almost always the most controversial issue. Disobedience of a court order is not grounds for contempt when someone other than the party bound by the order is responsible for the disobedience. As in the Hancock case cited in the Baines case, a parent who has used all reasonable means to force a child to comply with a visitation order is not liable for contempt if the child simply refuses to obey.

What's the difference between a Felony and Misdemeanor in North Carolina?

As seen in the Watson case, the contempt that results from violation of a court order comes in two types: civil and criminal. A civil contempt action seeks to motivate a party to comply with the relevant court order. Civil contempt cases must provide for a way for the offending party to purge the offense, such as by making overdue payments. Once the party complies, then he or she is no longer subject to the penalties for contempt such as incarceration.

The order to purge the offense must be specific, such as an order to pay a specific sum of money by a specific date. Incarceration for civil contempt is limited to successive day periods, not to exceed a year in total for the same offense. The North Carolina Supreme Court has ruled that, due to due process concerns, a trial court must consider appointing public counsel for an indigent defendant even if the contempt proceeding is civil rather than criminal.

The trial court must determine how likely incarceration is and ask the defendant about his or her wish for a lawyer and ability to pay for one. Courts must always act in the best interests of a child, and are reluctant to incarcerate custodial parents. Criminal contempt, on the other hand, is used to punish multiple or repeated violations of court orders.

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The usual constitutional protections for those accused of a crime apply. Offending parties are also required to comply with the original order, and risk losing custody or visitation rights. As in the Baines case, a party against whom a contempt order is sought will often seek modification of the order that he or she allegedly violated. Or, a party who is not complying with an order may seek modification before the other party brings a motion for contempt. For example, if a parent paying child support has lost his or her job, he or she may apply for a modification reducing the amount of child support due.

The child may switch from public to private school or vice-versa. The child may need expensive private tutoring to cope with a learning disability or prepare for college entrance exams. The child may have new long-term or short-term medical expenses. Parents may also seek modifications with respect to custody.

Order to show cause

For example, the parent with primary custody may wish to move with the child out of state for a new job, a new spouse, or to be closer to family members. If a parent thinks visitation is inappropriate under the circumstances, that parent should seek to modify the order rather than violate it and risk being found in contempt.

For example, one North Carolina court agreed that because a father smelled of alcohol and had let his apartment become unsanitary, the court should limit his visitation rights. This did not, however, justify the mother ignoring the visitation order for more than a year, thus creating her own violation of court order. Parties may also seek to modify an alimony order.


The punishment for civil contempt of court is imprisonment for as long as the contempt continues, and does not have a statutory limit. For example, if someone is found in civil contempt for not paying child support, they can remain in jail until they have paid those funds. Compliance is technically the only way to get out of jail. Criminal contempt of court is brought about as a punishment.

As you can probably discern from the information, civil contempt is used to get you to comply, while criminal contempt is used to punish you for something you already did.

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