You divorced your wife in Virginia some time ago. You two, and your attorneys, worked out a visitation schedule so you got to see little Paulie and Peggy Sue every other weekend. Things were fine until summer, and then all of a sudden your ex-wife kept making excuses why your own children were not available for your scheduled visitation times. You are frustrated, angry, and annoyed. Your wife is violating the court order, including the terms of child visitation. What can you do? Your attorney can petition the Virginia court for a Rule to Show Cause.

Contempt of Court

When a juvenile and domestic relations district court, or a Virginia circuit court, issues an order that is a court order and automatically comes with rules of enforcement. Neither you, nor your wife, are entitled to ignore or defy the court order. A divorce decree, with all its constituent parts, is such a court order.

Your wife cannot ignore the details of the ruling. If she does, she is in contempt of court, and judges do not appreciate such contempt. Judges, though, do not keep an eye on every case that wended its way through their docket. They are not following up with your ex-wife to ensure she is complying with their orders.

What is a Show Cause Hearing?

The Rule to Show Cause, or a show cause hearing is meant to force someone to present themselves before a judge to explain why they should not be held in contempt of court. In other words, they have to provide a reason — show cause — why they ignored a court order.

That is harder than you can imagine. The default position of a Virginia judge is that a court order is written to be obeyed, and explanations are generally met with a skeptical eye.

Your ex-wife, in showing contempt for the court, risks a very dangerous game. As the Lynchburg Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court explains, “when a Motion to Show Cause for Contempt of Court is filed for an alleged violation of a court order concerning child custody, visitation or support, the contempt may either be charged as civil or criminal contempt.”

Civil Contempt in Virginia

If your attorney brings charges of civil contempt of court against your ex-wife, your attorney is saying she violated a court order under Code of Virginia § 16.1-292 and can be incarcerated “in a jail, workhouse, city farm or work squad.” We especially love the Dickensian part about a workhouse — workhouses no longer exist in the Commonwealth. Your ex, though, could still be jailed for up to a year.

Criminal Contempt in Virginia

If your attorney files to press a petition for Rule to Show Cause as criminal contempt, the penalties are 10 days’ jail time under Code of Virginia §18.2-456 or up to a year under §16.1-278.16 (failure to comply with support payments).

The Show Cause Hearing

Your attorney will be very prudent in filing a petition for Rule to Show Cause. The filing should not be made out of a sense of vengeance; if you truly want the Virginia judge on your side, do not waste the court’s time. Find the original court order and confirm (and have your attorney confirm) that your ex-wife is really violating the order. Only move ahead if your attorney feels you have a strong case.

Your lawyer will tailor the allegations of contempt very carefully to address exactly what the judge’s court order stated. Judges are predisposed to view contemnors with … uh … contempt … so you already have an advantage. The Rule to Show Cause and the petition with the detailed charges are served to your ex-wife or her attorney.

If she has any sense, she will not defend herself in court alone, but will pay her attorney to try — again, the judge will be extremely skeptical — to explain why she is not in contempt.

Most Virginia judges do not view family relations court orders as fodder for jail time. It simply does not solve the underlying problem, which is often financial or emotional. Your ex-wife may just need to get the stern lecture, suspension of her driving privileges, a fine or some other wake-up call. She will probably take the judge a bit more seriously after being on the receiving end of a contempt charge.

Legal Fees & Court Costs

Most Virginia courts will also compel the contemnor to pay all court costs and legal fees (for both sides) for tying up the court’s time with the hearing. This means your ex-wife pays your attorney to file your petitions against her, if the judge finds her guilty.

Need an Attorney for a Show Cause Hearing?

What, though, if you are on the receiving end of a Rule to Show Cause? We at The Firm For Men are always willing to fight the good fight. But, buddy, this is one fight we would rather not take on. We would rather work with you to prevent such a showdown with a show cause hearing. If you mess up by violating the order, we can work with you to try, legally and quickly, to make amends and correct the situation. We would counsel you against repeatedly violating the specifics of a divorce decree. We would advise against using your children as pawns against your ex-wife.

Defending Virginia’s men is what we at The Firm For Men do, but when you do the indefensible, we will tell you. We work with a lot of judges; we know what it looks and sounds like when they learn you are in contempt of their orders. Hooo-boy. Ouch. 

For realistic, helpful legal advice, contact us at The Firm For Men or call us at 757-383-9184. We can help keep you out of trouble, and help you hold your ex-wife accountable to court orders.

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