Contempt of Court

What is contempt of court? Your South Carolina court order usually contains numerous findings as to child support, custody, division of property, restraining orders, etc. However, if the other party does not comply with the order, you can't go to the police. You have to file a rule to show cause complaint in the family court and ask the judge to find them in contempt of court. Contempt is the willful violation of a court order. The punishments imposed are entirely up to the discretion of the judge. However, the maximum sentence that can be imposed for contempt of a Court Order is (a) one year in jail, (b) $1,500 fine, (c) 300 hours of community service, or (d) any combination of the above. Failure to pay child support will almost always result in jail time.

Contempt of Court Law

The power to punish for contempt of court is inherent in all courts and is essential to preservation of order in judicial proceedings. Contempt of court results from the willful disobedience of an order of the court. “A willful act is one which is ‘done voluntarily and intentionally with the specific intent to do something the law forbids, or with the specific intent to fail to do something the law requires to be done; that is to say, with bad purpose either to disobey or disregard the law.’ ” Widman v. Widman, 348 S.C. 97, 119, 557 S.E.2d 693, 705 (Ct. App. 2001).

The South Carolina family law court has the inherent power to punish for contempt of its orders. See In Interest of Darlene C., 278 S.C. 664, 666, 301 S.E.2d 136, 137 (1983). "That power is essential to the preservation of order in judicial proceedings, and to the enforcement of the courts' judgments, orders, and writs and consequently to the due administration of justice." Id., see generally S.C. Code Ann. §§ 20-7-1330 through -1350 (Supp. 2009) (establishing broad contempt powers within the family court).

How Not to Act in the Courtroom

Rhoad made an obscene gesture to his trial counsel before leaving the courtroom. Rhoad was brought back into the courtroom and questioned about his actions. Rhoad first admitted he “might have flipped [trial counsel] off,” but then he denied that he did it. The judge took testimony from witnesses in the courtroom to confirm that Rhoad had in fact made an obscene gesture. Rhoad then informed the judge of his frustration with his trial counsel, and he apologized to trial counsel and the judge. The judge held Rhoad in contempt and sentenced him to one year imprisonment consecutive to his current sentence. Rhoad then exclaimed to the judge, “F**k you, you bastard.” The judge held Rhoad in contempt for that statement and sentenced him to another year consecutive to Rhoad’s current sentence.

Contempt of Court and Jail Time

The lesson is that no matter how emotional the situation, you had better behave in a South Carolina court or you will spend time in jail.

Failure to Comply with the Divorce Decree

In Davis, the court found the Husband in contempt for failure to comply with the family court’s orders concerning the distribution of personal property, payment of Wife’s equitable share of the marital home, harassment, and communication with Wife about the children’s issues. Davis v. Davis

Failure to Comply with a Temporary Order

In McFarlin, the court found the husband in contempt for not paying the mortgage on the marital home despite his claims that he did not have the financial ability to do so. McFarlin v. McFarlin

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