Contempt of Court in a Massachusetts Divorce

Judge punishing holding person in contempt of court in a Massachusetts divorce.

Understanding Contempt in Divorce Cases

Contempt of court in Massachusetts divorce proceedings can be a complex and emotionally charged issue. It occurs when one party fails to comply with a court order, whether it involves child custody, visitation agreements, child support, alimony, or other aspects outlined in the divorce decree. The court’s orders must be followed unequivocally, and any deviation can lead to the filing of a complaint of contempt by the injured party

Types of Contempt in Massachusetts

There are two primary types of contempt: civil and criminal. Civil contempt focuses on compelling compliance with court orders, typically involving financial compensation or specific actions to rectify the disobedience. In contrast, criminal contempt deals with punishing the disobedient party, often involving fines or even jail time.

Identifying Contemptuous Actions

To prove contempt, it’s crucial to demonstrate the existence of a court order, the opposing party’s failure to comply, and that their actions were unequivocal disobedience rather than a misunderstanding or inability to adhere to the order.

For example, you may be accused of not following the co-parenting plan that was ordered.  Or perhaps your ex is withholding visitation because you’re behind on your child support. 

Consequences of Contempt in Divorce Proceedings

Contempt of court in divorce cases can have serious legal consequences. The court may enforce compliance through various means, such as modifying existing orders, imposing fines, or in severe cases, ordering jail time for the disobedient party. Moreover, the accused party may be responsible for paying the injured party’s legal fees.

Initiating a contempt proceeding typically involves filing a complaint of contempt, followed by a hearing where the injured party must prove the disobedience by a preponderance of the evidence, a standard lower than “beyond a reasonable doubt” used in criminal cases.

Defenses Against Contempt Charges

The accused party can present affirmative defenses, such as inability to comply due to unforeseen circumstances or the existence of a valid reason for non-compliance. However, willful disobedience without substantial change in circumstances can make defending against contempt charges challenging.

When facing a contempt issue in a Massachusetts divorce, seeking advice from an experienced family law attorney is crucial. We can guide you through the legal process, help gather evidence, and represent you in court hearings. The court will set a hearing date where both parties can present their arguments and evidence.

Possible Outcomes and Appeal Options

After an evidentiary hearing, if the court finds the accused party in contempt, it may issue a contempt order outlining the consequences. The party found in contempt can appeal the decision to the appeals court but must act promptly and within the specified legal timeframe.

Resolving Contempt Issues Amicably

It’s in the best interest of both parties to comply with court orders to avoid contempt proceedings. Mediation or negotiation can often resolve issues outside of court, ensuring compliance and preventing the strain of legal fees and possible sanctions.


Understanding the nuances of contempt of court in Massachusetts divorce cases is crucial. While navigating such situations can be challenging, seeking guidance from an experienced family law attorney and ensuring compliance with court orders remain the best options to mitigate the serious repercussions of contempt.

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