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Contempt of court during a divorce

There's no doubt about it: Divorces can get quite unpleasant. In fact, they can turn downright ugly when one spouse is determined to make the other spouse's life as miserable as possible -- and uses the court to do it.

What happens if you are accused of violating one of the court's orders during your divorce?

It can happen easier than you think. Your spouse may accuse you of violating anything from the temporary visitation schedule with the children to the judge's order to turn over your business records for review.

If you find yourself in front of the judge charged with civil contempt, are there any possible defenses? Absolutely. Here are some of the possibilities:

You had no knowledge of the order

This can happen when the notice of the order wasn't properly communicated to either you or your attorney. For example, an order telling you to turn over a copy of all your electronic files may have been delivered to the address you were staying at before you moved to your current residence.

You did violate the order, but it was unintentional

Sometimes you can violate an order accidentally. If the language in your shared custody agreement was unclear, for example, you may have genuinely believed that you had the right to keep the kids over a long holiday when it fell on your weekend.

You are willing - but unable - to comply with the order

For example, imagine that you're ordered to pay a certain amount of temporary support based on your company's prior year's earnings. However, there's been a recent change in the market that's seriously affected your revenues. You simply do not have the money to comply.

The goal of a civil contempt charge is to either fix the issue in question or move the proceedings along. The court may be satisfied as long as you seem to be complying with the order as much as possible or have a reasonable explanation for your lapse.

Before you go to your contempt hearing, discuss your situation in depth with your attorney in order to determine your wisest course of action.

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