Filing a Complaint for Contempt

Produced by Jeff Wolf for MassLegalHelp
Last updated May 2013

If the other parent disobeys the child support order, you can take him or her back to court. You file a Complaint for Contempt.

In a contempt case, you ask the court to decide that the other parent is in “contempt.” “Contempt” means not obeying the child support order even though you are able to.

If the court decides a parent is in contempt because he or she did not pay child support, the judge can force that parent to pay the money, get a job, or go to jail. This decision is a “Judgment of Contempt.”

How do I file a Complaint for Contempt Case?

How much does it cost to file a Complaint for Contempt?

What if I do not have money for the fees?

What happens at a Child Support Contempt Hearing?

What if the other parent does not show up for the hearing?

Can I get help filing a Complaint for Contempt?

What happens at a Child Support Contempt hearing?

After you file the complaint, the other parent gets a copy of the complaint and a “Contempt Summons”. The Contempt Summons tells the other parent when to go to court.

When you file a Complaint for Contempt case, you are the “plaintiff”. The parent who is not obeying the child support order is the “defendant”.

The other parent must prove that he or she could not obey the child support order.

If the judge decides the defendant is able to obey the child support order, the defendant is “in contempt”. The judge then makes an order. The order says that the other parent must do at least one of the following things:

  • serve a sentence in jail
  • pay the full amount of money due;
  • keep making regular child support payments, plus money to make up the arrears (past due amount
  • look for a job and report back to a probation officer. This is called a "job search" order;
  • participate in a community service program and report back to a probation officer;
  • participate in a job readiness or job training program and report back to a probation officer.

If the defendant is in contempt, but:

  • cannot pay current support amounts,
  • is unemployed, and
  • is not disabled,

the judge must order a job search, community service, or job readiness or training.

Note

If the court finds that the defendant is in contempt, the court is supposed to order him or her to pay your attorney's fees and court-case expenses. These fees and expenses must be reasonable.  If you are using a lawyer, make sure he or she asks the court for attorney's fees and court-case expenses.

What if the other parent does not show up for the hearing?

The other parent is the defendant. If the defendant does not show up in court on the day of the contempt hearing, the judge can issue a civil arrest warrant called a "capias."

A capias warrant is not the same as a criminal arrest warrant.

With a criminal warrant, a person is arrested because he or she is a suspect in a crime.

A capias warrant in a contempt case makes the defendant go to court for the hearing. If the defendant does not show up for a hearing, the judge can issue a capias. A deputy sheriff or a constable serves the capias by arresting the other parent and bringing him or her to court for the hearing.

Can I get help filing a Complaint for Contempt?

Yes.

Lawyers can help you

Some lawyers from Family Court can help. If you have low income, there are lawyers who can help you for free. These lawyers are the "Lawyers for the Day".  If you want to find out about a lawyer for the day, call your county’s Probate and Family Court.

Note

If you talk to the "lawyer for the day", ask them to help you with the Affidavit of Indigency.

The Department of Revenue Child Support Enforcement (DOR/CSE) can help 

You can also ask the Division of Child Support Enforcement (DOR/CSE) for help. Get more information by calling DOR/CSE's customer service line at 1-800-332-2733.

Find Legal Aid

You may be able to get free legal help from your local legal aid program. Or email a question about your own legal problem to a lawyer.

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