If a party fails to do something the court has ordered them to do, the court can find them in contempt. Contempt most often arises over a failure to pay child support, but it can involve a failure to do anything that the court has ordered. Once a person is found in contempt they are ordered to jail for up to 20 days, but the court must set a purge. A purge is something the person must do to avoid going to jail. A purge can be payment of money, or it can be an action. The court has many remedies for contempt. The person found in contempt can also be fined up to $1,000 and is also usually ordered to pay some or all of the other person’s attorney’s fees.
Two recent cases demonstrate the kinds of purges a court can fashion to remedy violations of its orders. In one case, the Husband was ordered to turn over furniture to the wife. When the Husbands failed to do so, and the furniture disappeared, the court found him in contempt and ordered him pay the fair market value of the furniture to the Wife. But now the requirement to pay the money was not only an order; it was a purge that the Husband had to pay to avoid going to jail. In the case, the Husband claimed that the court was not enforcing its order, it was modifying its order by requiring the Husband to pay money instead of turn over furniture. But while the court cannot modify the order in a contempt action, it has broad discretion to craft a remedy.
In another case the Husband was awarded a jointly titled house and was ordered to refinance the joint mortgage in his own name within six months, or sell the property. When the Husband did neither, the Wife sought contempt. The court found the Husband in contempt. To purge the contempt and avoid going to jail, the Husband was required to put the house up for sale immediately. Again, he had to put the house up for sale and proceed with the sale, or go to jail.
Visitation can also be enforced by contempt. If a parent fails to allow visitation or fails to return the child after visitation as required by the court order, that parent can be found in contempt and sent to jail.
Court orders must be followed. Courts in Georgia require compliance with their orders and will not hesitate to send the disobedient party to jail. If you are ever in a situation where you cannot comply with an order, or you have good reason for believing that compliance would be harmful to a child, seek the guidance of an experience family law lawyer immediately.