Complaint for Contempt

A complaint for contempt is filed in the Massachusetts Probate & Family Courts when a party is willfully disobeying a clear and unequivocal order of the court. A complaint for contempt can be used to seek enforcement of a temporary order issued during the pendency of an open case or a final order of the court. A complaint for contempt carries the possibility of an award of attorney’s fees to the prevailing party and should not be done without first consulting an attorney to make sure your circumstances fit the criteria for an award of contempt.

Types of Contempt Actions

When filing a complaint for contempt you have the option of filing a civil complaint for contempt or a criminal complaint for contempt.

  • Civil Contempt- The vast majority of contempt actions are civil in nature and are meant to force the party not in compliance with a court order to obey the terms of the order.
  • Criminal Contempt- This type of contempt is used less frequently and is typically used when a party regularly fails to comply with a court order of support for a spouse or child even though the party had the ability to make the support payments. Requesting that the other party be held in criminal contempt is a decision that can have unforeseen consequence so you should consult an attorney before filing a criminal complaint for contempt.

Process for Filing Contempt Actions

The complaint for contempt is typically filed at the same court that issued the original judgment or order. Once the complaint is filed the court will issue a contempt summons with a return date. The court will hear argument from both parties on the return date, and may conduct an evidentiary hearing in order to make a ruling on the merits.

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