Civil contempt is pretty straight forward. Essentially, it is used to make an individual comply with a court order.

The North Carolina civil contempt statute provides that four elements must be met to hold someone in civil contempt of court:

(1) the order must remain in force;

(2) the purpose of the order may still be served by compliance;

(3) the noncompliance was willful (i.e., deliberate and intentional)

(4) the noncomplying party is able to comply with the order or is able to take reasonable measures to comply.

A person who is found in civil contempt may be imprisoned until they begin to comply with the court order.

Every contempt order must contain a “purge provision,” which tells the non-complying party how they can immediately remove themselves from civil contempt.  The purge condition must be specific, such as an order to pay a specified amount of money by a certain date.  Without this purge provision, the civil contempt order will be removed. Bethea v. McDonald, 70 N.C. App. 566, 320 S.E.2d 690 (1984).

The contempt order must provide that the defendant has the ability to comply with the order.  If the person is unable to comply, there is no contempt.  Civil contempt is often implicated when there has been a failure to pay money owed to another party.  The court does not need to find that the non-complying party actually has the money, it is enough if the party has assets that can be liquidated.  For example, having equity in a home may show that the party is able to pay an amount owed.  A judge will not hold a party in contempt if they are unable to pay the amount due.

What is the Procedure for Civil Contempt?

To initiate civil contempt, anyone with an interest in enforcing the order must file a motion of contempt.  An order to show cause may also be issued – which is a demand to appear in court and prove why one should not be held in contempt of court.

Due to the significant consequences you may face, it is important to contact an experienced attorney for help! If you have received notice of a contempt motion or believe you need to file a motion for contempt, call our office to set up a consultation!