Contempt Of Court: Ensuring Compliance With Your Divorce Or Maintenance Agreements


Dealing with a divorce or maintenance agreement can be challenging, especially when one party fails to adhere to the court’s orders. If you find yourself in a situation where you believe your ex-spouse or partner is in contempt of court, it’s essential to understand the legal implications and the steps you could take to ensure their compliance.

Contempt of court refers to any act or behavior that disrespects or defies the court’s authority, dignity, or orders. Contempt of court can occur in various forms, such as failing to appear in court, refusing to comply with court orders, or disrupting court proceedings.

When someone is found in contempt of court, it means that they are essentially disobeying or disregarding the court’s instructions, which can lead to legal consequences. To better understand this legal term, we will explore the concept of contempt of court, explain how to apply for a contempt of court order, and shed light on the legal repercussions of being found to be in contempt of court.


What Is A Contempt Order In South Africa?

A contempt order essentially requests the court to take action against the party violating the court’s orders. In South Africa, a contempt order is a legal mechanism that aims to enforce compliance with court orders.

If you believe your ex-spouse or partner is not adhering to the terms and conditions specified in your divorce or maintenance agreement, you can seek a contempt order to address the issue.


How Do You Apply For A Contempt Of Court Order?

There are several steps to a contempt of court order application in South Africa. Here is a general outline of the process:

  • Consult with an attorney: Seek legal advice from a reputable attorney who can guide you through the process, ensuring your rights are protected.
  • Gather evidence: Collect any evidence that supports your claim of contempt, including documents, photographs, emails, or any other relevant records that demonstrate the violation of the court’s orders.
  • File an application: Your attorney will prepare the necessary documents, such as an affidavit outlining the details of the contempt, and file the application with the appropriate court.
  • Court hearing: The court will review your application and schedule a hearing. During the hearing, both parties will get the opportunity to present their case and provide evidence.
  • Contempt ruling: Based on the evidence presented, the court will make a ruling regarding the contempt of court allegations. If the court finds the party in contempt, it may impose penalties or take other actions to ensure compliance.

The Legal Repercussions Of Being In Contempt Of Court

Being found in contempt of court can result in significant legal repercussions. The court takes violations of its orders seriously to uphold the judicial system’s integrity. Here are some potential legal repercussions that the court may impose:

  • Fines: One of the standard penalties for contempt of court is the imposition of fines. The court may order the party in contempt to pay a monetary penalty as a deterrent and to compensate for any harm caused by the violation. The amount of the fine will depend on the circumstances of the case and the court’s discretion.
  • Imprisonment: In some instances, the court may order the individual in contempt to serve a period of imprisonment. It is important to note that imprisonment is usually a last resort reserved for severe or willful violations.
  • Additional orders: To ensure future compliance, the court can issue additional orders on top of the original ones. These orders may require the party in contempt to take specific actions or refrain from certain behaviors. For example, if a party is found in contempt for failing to pay child support, the court may impose a stricter payment schedule or enforce wage garnishment to ensure ongoing compliance.
  • Legal costs: In many cases, the party found in contempt may be ordered to pay the legal costs incurred by the other party, including attorney fees, court filing fees, and other reasonable expenses for addressing the contempt. Holding the party responsible for these costs is intended to deter future violations and compensate the innocent party for the expenses incurred due to the contemptuous behavior.
  • Modification of orders: If the contempt involves repeated or substantial violations, the court may modify the existing orders to reflect the circumstances better or to address the non-compliance effectively. For example, if one party consistently fails to follow the visitation schedule in a divorce case, the court may revise the custody arrangement to protect the children’s best interests.


It’s important to remember that the court’s primary objective is to enforce compliance rather than to punish. However, the severity of the penalties will depend on the gravity and nature of the contempt and the court’s assessment of the situation.


5 Aspects To Consider Before Approaching The Courts

Seeking a contempt order from the court is a serious step to address non-compliance with divorce or maintenance agreements. Before pursuing this legal route, it’s essential to consider various aspects to ensure you are making an informed decision. Additionally, exploring alternative options may provide a more practical and cost-effective solution. Here are five aspects you should consider:


1. Communication And Mediation

Before escalating the situation to the court, it’s worth attempting to resolve the issue through communication and mediation. Openly discuss the matter with your ex-spouse or partner, explaining your concerns and the impact their non-compliance has on your rights or the well-being of any children involved.

Mediation, facilitated by a neutral third party, can help foster productive discussions and find mutually acceptable solutions without resorting to the legal system.


2. Legal Advice

Consulting with an experienced family law attorney is crucial before proceeding with a contempt order. They can assess the strength of your case, review the evidence you have gathered, and assess the likelihood of success.

An attorney can also help you understand the potential legal costs, timelines, and complexities of seeking a contempt order. Their expertise will ensure you make an informed decision and explore all available options.


3. Documentation And Evidence

To support your claim of non-compliance, gather thorough documentation and evidence, including copies of court orders, emails, text messages, financial records, or any other relevant documents that demonstrate the other party’s failure to comply. A comprehensive record of the violations strengthens your case and increases the likelihood of a successful contempt order.


4. Financial Considerations

Before initiating legal proceedings, evaluate the financial implications of seeking a contempt order. Legal costs can accumulate quickly, including attorney, court, and other related expenses. Consider whether the potential benefits of obtaining a contempt order outweigh the financial burdens of pursuing the matter in court.


5. Emotional Impact

Legal battles can be emotionally draining, especially when they involve disputes with a former spouse or partner. Consider the potential emotional impact that pursuing a contempt order may have on you, your family, and any children involved.

Assess whether the stress and strain of a court process are worth the potential outcome or if alternative dispute resolution methods may provide a more amicable and less adversarial resolution.

Dealing with a situation where your ex-spouse or partner is in contempt of court can be stressful, but understanding the legal process and your rights can help you navigate it effectively. By taking the necessary legal actions, you can seek enforcement of your divorce or maintenance agreements and ensure compliance from the other party.

If you require the advice of a legal representative experienced in these sorts of cases, our Burnett Attorneys & Notaries team is available to help you. Please do not hesitate to contact us to set up a consultation.