Rule to Show Cause: Holding Someone in Contempt of Court
Written by: Megan Dell
When someone violates a Family Court order, they can be held in contempt of court. Typically, a contempt proceeding begins when one party (the “petitioner”) asks the Court to issue an order requiring the other party (the “respondent”) to explain why they have violated the prior Order.
The pleading that is filed to have someone held in contempt of court is referred to as a “Rule to Show Cause.” Why are Rules to Show Cause necessary? Because, once a final order is entered, the Family Court does not monitor whether the parties to it comply with its terms.
Common reasons for filing a Rule to Show Cause include the respondent failing to pay court-ordered child support or alimony, failing to pay debts as required, not allowing visitation with children, or not adhering to child-related behavior restraints.
SCRFC Rule 14 outlines the procedural requirements of a Rule to Show Cause. A petition for a Rule to Show Cause must identify the Order that has been violated and the specific acts performed/not performed by the respondent that violate the Order. The party seeking a Rule to Show Cause must also identify the relief that he or she is seeking.
Once the Order and Rule to Show Cause has been signed by a judge and a hearing date has been set, it must be personally served on the respondent at least 10 days prior to the hearing.
Then, the respondent may file a written Return and serve it at any time prior to the hearing.
SCRFC Rule 24 also allows that, when child support or alimony is paid through a county’s Clerk of Court, then the Clerk of Court is permitted to issue a Rule to Show Cause when the account is past due.
Similarly, SCRFC Rule 27 provides specifics for the filing of a Rule to Show Cause by a self-represented person alleging violation of a visitation Order.
The petitioner has the burden of showing the Order was violated and identifying the specific violative conduct.
Then, the respondent can provide evidence of his defense or that his failure to comply with the Order was not willful.
Mere violation of a Court’s Order is not, by itself, a reason to be held in contempt of court. Rather, the violation of the Order must be willful or, in other words, deliberate and intentional.
Defenses to Contempt of Court
First, there may be procedural defenses to a Rule to Show Cause if the requirements of SCRFC Rule 14 have not been met.
Then, it is common that the party responding to a Rule to Show Cause will claim that he or she is not able to comply with the prior Order. For example, if an Order required her to refinance the parties’ former marital home but she has not been able to find a bank willing to refinance.
There are many defenses to a Rule to Show Cause, and they depend on the facts and circumstances of each case.
Differences Between Criminal Contempt and Civil Contempt
The purpose of criminal contempt is to preserve the Court’s authority and punish the wrongdoer for violating the Order. Penalties for criminal contempt are purely punitive, such as a sentence to jail confinement for a definite period of time.
Additionally, in criminal contempt proceedings, specific constitutional safeguards apply. To hold someone in criminal contempt, the Court must find beyond a reasonable doubt that they willfully violated the prior Order. Some criminal contempt proceedings entitle the respondent to representation by a court-appointed attorney and/or a jury trial.
In contrast, the purpose of civil contempt is to incentivize someone to comply with the Court’s prior Order. To hold someone in civil contempt, the Court must find there is clear and convincing evidence they willfully violated the prior Order. Then, the sanctions for civil contempt tend to be conditional upon compliance with the Order, such as the wrongdoer being confined to jail until they have done what the Court has ordered them to do. In these situations, the wrongdoer controls how long they are imprisoned, and they can purge themselves of contempt by complying with the Order.
A person found to be in contempt can be sanctioned to up to 300 hours of community service, a fine of up to $1,500, or imprisonment for up to 1 year, or any combination of these things pursuant to S.C. Code Ann. Section 63-3-620.
The petitioner may also be entitled to an award of attorney’s fees and costs.
If you are worried about being held in contempt of court or want to pursue a Rule to Show Cause against someone else, schedule a consultation to talk with one of our attorneys about your situation.