When a divorce is uncontested, a settlement agreement will be drawn up between the two parties detailing the terms of their divorce. If the parties cannot reach an agreement, a trial will be necessary for the court to make a ruling concerning the divorce terms. A divorce agreement is then made an order of the court once the divorce order is granted.   
If a person is found to be in contempt of a court order, such as a divorce agreement, it means that they have demonstrated a willful disregard for the terms set out in that order. When one party refuses to meet the obligations set out in their divorce agreement the other might seek relief by applying for a contempt of court order.

What is a Contempt Order?

Under South African law, contempt of the court is defined as either civil or criminal. In civil cases, a contempt order is generally instituted to compel compliance from one party. For example, an individual can apply for a contempt of court order if their former spouse refuses to meet their payment obligations set out by the divorce agreement. However, it is important to note that the courts tend to exercise a fair amount of caution before granting an order of contempt. A contempt order can carry harsh penalties, such as incarceration or costly fines, and individuals are encouraged to first seek relief through alternative channels such as arbitration and mediation. A contempt order is generally sought when all other attempts to encourage compliance have failed.

Applying for a Contempt of Court Order

Contempt of court is deemed a criminal offence in South Africa. This places the onus on the applicant of the contempt order to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the respondent demonstrated non-compliance with the court order. If an applicant wishes to be successful in their application for contempt of court order there are some factors to consider. The applicant will have to prove that a court order is in force against the respondent; that the respondent is aware of the order; and that the respondent willfully acted in contradiction to the terms of the order.

A divorce agreement contains some obligations that both parties have to comply with. The agreement can detail the amount of maintenance one party is required to pay, whether it be to their former spouse or their children. This agreement can also regulate the contact that a parent has with their child after the divorce has been finalised. If one of the parties consistently fails to meet any of these obligations without a valid excuse, an application for contempt of court can be filed to enforce the agreement.

Approaching the courts for assistance can be a daunting and time-consuming task. Navigating all the legal avenues of our country is a difficult undertaking, which is why it is best to seek the advice of a legal expert before taking on this task. Contact Cawood Attorneys if you require legal assistance during any stage of your divorce. Our team of qualified attorneys will be with you every step of the way, providing you with some peace of mind throughout the divorce process.   

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