Contempt of Court Action

What is Contempt of Court?

The court may find an obligor in contempt if they have the ability to pay but are not paying their child support obligation. The court may sentence an obligor to serve time in jail. Contempt is used only when other enforcement tools have failed and the county attorney approves it.

What are the criteria for an obligor to be found in contempt?

When an obligor is in arrears in an amount equal to at least three months of the court ordered support obligation, a possible enforcement remedy is civil contempt.

How does contempt start? 
If Washington County is providing support enforcement services, the child support worker may initiate contempt proceedings if contempt is determined to be an appropriate remedy. Once the worker initiates the contempt, it is referred to the County Attorney's Office to proceed with personal service of the obligor. If the location of the obligor is unknown, Washington County will be unable to pursue civil contempt until the obligor's location is confirmed.

What happens once the obligor is personally served?

A hearing will be scheduled at which the court will determine whether or not the obligor has failed to willfully pay support. The court may sentence the obligor to a period of up to six months in jail. The jail sentence is typically stayed on the condition the obligor complies with certain requirements such as making the support payments. A review hearing will be scheduled for three to six months from the date of the first hearing to verify if the obligor is in compliance with the courts order of contempt. An order for contempt is typically in effect for one year from the date of the first order for contempt.

Once the obligor is found to be in contempt, will payments start? 
Not necessarily. There is no guarantee that civil contempt will result in payments from the obligor. A review hearing will be set at the time of the initial hearing and if the obligor is not paying, they will be in front of the judge again for the non-payment. This may result in the obligor serving time in jail.

Will a contempt action automatically reinstate an obligor's driver's license? 
No, driver's license suspension and contempt are separate actions. An obligor would still need to take action on the driver's license suspension even if they are found in contempt by a judge.

The obligor did not show up at the contempt hearing, what happens now?

If an obligor fails to attend the contempt hearing, the judge will issue a writ for their arrest and a bond amount will be ordered. If the obligor is picked up on the writ, they will be scheduled for a hearing where they will appear in front of a judge on the contempt charge.

Can obligees bring obligors in for contempt themselves?

Yes. The obligee may bring a motion for civil contempt. Contempt paperwork may be found on the Minnesota Judicial Branch court website.

Contact the county court administrator for more information on forms needed and filing fees.

Why wouldn't contempt be used? 
There are various reasons why Washington County would not be able to pursue contempt.

  • The obligor does not reside in the State of Minnesota.
  • The location of the obligor can not be verified.
  • The obligor is a recipient of cash public assistance.
  • The obligor is in compliance with a payment agreement.