Contempt of Court in Wisconsin

If a party intentionally and without legal justification disobeys a court order, this is called being in contempt of court and the law provides a remedy through a finding of contempt.

In family or divorce actions, the most common examples of contempt are when one party fails to pay child or spousal support or if one party refuses to honor the custody and placement (visitation).

In Wisconsin, to address or obtain relief from the court for the contempt, the party who is harmed by the violation of the court order must file a Motion with the court describing the contempt in order to have the matter heard. This Motion must be personally served on the violator at least five (5) business days before the date of the hearing.

If the violator is found in contempt, the court has the authority to order the violator to correct the contempt and also to order sanctions or penalties as a result of failing to comply with the court order. This may involve more than one hearing because the court must allow the offender an opportunity to obtain counsel. The court must also set “purge conditions” which is an opportunity to purge or correct his or her contempt by setting tasks to be completed or payments to be made in order for the violator to avoid further punishment. Some of the sanctions available to the judge are payments, wage garnishment, attaching or seizing assets or even jail time.

The court also has broad discretion to come up with other, more creative solutions to force the violator to comply with the terms of the decree. For example, if a party was court ordered to sell the marital residence by a certain date but did not do so, the court may give the violator a certain period of time to sell the home in order to avoid a finding of contempt. If the violator is successful in selling the home in the time ordered by the court, the violator completed the appropriate purge condition and would not be found in contempt.

The harmed party may also ask the court to order that the violator be responsible for paying the harmed party’s attorneys fees and other expenses associated with the Motion. The court will often do so as a way to punish the offender.

It is important to note that if a violator is found not to have an ability to pay or comply with the court order, for whatever reason, then he or she cannot be found in contempt. For example, if someone becomes ill and cannot work, then they are not in contempt for failing to pay support because they do not have the ability to pay. Or, if someone tries to sell a home pursuant to court order but cannot do so, they are not in contempt because they did try to comply with the order.

If you are in a contempt situation, whether you are the party seeking relief or the party who is out of compliance with the court order, it is best to consult with an experienced family law attorney to assist you for the best possible results. For more information or a free initial consultation if you are in our practice area, visit our website at or contact us at 414-258-1644.

12 thoughts on “Contempt of Court in Wisconsin

  1. Your explanation is incorrect – in Milwaukee you will be immediately arrested and jailed if you are suspected of interfering with custody placement.

    • Of course, every situation is different but I have been practicing divorce and family law in Milwaukee county for over 20 years and I have yet to see that result happen. The contempt in the situation you describe must have been ongoing over a long period of time or some other particularly egregious situation for that to have occurred.

    • I’m in Waukesha county with my case in Jefferson county. For about 8yrs my ex has had placement and he never has followed the custody order. These days I’m lucky to see my son 4 times a year and guess what days I’m getting him…. all of the days he knows my family gifts cash and electronics and the popular days adults go out partying on in which the last time my son was over he ignored us because he was allowed to bring his Xbox One over and he got so mad at me when I was fed up and told him no more Xbox and spend time with his family he never sees. My son admitted on his own his dad prevents him from visiting including calling me. 2yrs ago he told his dad he wanted to live with me and his dad demanded i drop him off by him immediately that day. Ever since that day I see my son even less, my son tells me about the materialistic reasoning his dad bribed him to never say anything about him wanting to live with me to anybody and if he does he’ll lose every privilege by him, and to top it off my son won’t talk to me as of June because of the manipulation my ex is playing on my son just to hurt me every way possible. Nobody has thrown him in jail for contempt. Mentioning it to police and they didn’t seem to care either. But if I miss 1 child support payment even though I can’t work for the past 2yrs I’m threatened jail time etc. I’m somehow suppose to make imaginary cash to support my ex and his girlfriend’s vacations, partying, and material things and I had proof proving my payments weren’t being used for my sons needs a few times and it’s the only reason why I’ve made this statement. My issue is not only am I being denied to see my son but I just found out somehow I received a hospital bill for my son and I never knew he was in the ER. I have Medicaid and I’m disabled with zero income. If I didn’t sign the admission forms and aurora has never billed me before for that son, how did it happen this time? Did my ex forge my name? He’s suppose to have insurance so what happened? And today I’m told the bill is even higher than the 1 I received so he must be still doing follow-up’s but our family doc knows that I’m not the responsible party for initial billing so what can I do? My problem isn’t with trying to find a way to pay my half. It’s about feeling like my ex is trying to pull a fraud scam on me again in order to avoid his obligations just like he’s been frauding Wisconsin assistance programs for years including perjury in child support hearing about his incomes just to avoid letting me decrease payments based on disability and his income doubling. He magically lands on “unemployment” whenever I tried changing orders so I gave up 5yrs ago. He even claim taxes yearly and still does when I was in good standing before new disabilities when in reality I should have been able to claim dependent whereas he claims EIC. I could continue but I won’t bore you all if anybody even reads these old threads.

      • This is a very complicated case and we simply cannot help you by email or through this forum. I’m sorry but your best bet is to consult with an attorney who practices in Jefferson County. We do not. I would recommend Attorney James Jaskolski’s office. I know they do both Waukesha and Jefferson county. Good luck.

      • I am not sure what you are specifically responding to – the blog or the comment. I agree with you, however, that the justice system can be frustrating, especially in Milwaukee county. However, I have found that if you continue to insist that the non-payor be held accountable, it will eventually happen. This may mean filing multiple contempt motions and/or multiple court dates but eventually, the court will impose stronger and stronger sanctions. It is exhausting and ridiculous that you need to do that just to get someone to follow a court order but it eventually does work. I would encourage you to seek a consultation with an experienced divorce attorney who can discuss this with you and walk you through all of the steps.

  2. How does one best approach a situation where the parent who receives support also sends bills for additional payment but without prior discussion/consent/agreement for the expense?

    • You must look at and follow the judgment of divorce. Whatever is says controls. If there is nothing in your judgment about expenses, then you are not necessarily obligated to pay same. You should consult with an experienced family law attorney who can review your judgment of divorce, look at your facts/concerns and give you an opinion as to your rights and obligations.

  3. We have filed the paperwork ourselves on motion to enforce placement. We filed all the information as to why the placement wasn’t followed. The hearing is coming up soon and we realized we hadn’t included the actual order for placement in the packet, if the family commissioner’s office already has the order for placement, does it still need to be added to the filing of enforcement of placement and if so can i simply go back to the clerk of courts and add it to the filing?

  4. What is the best approach to get my ex out of our house and me off the mortgage? He was granted the house with the agreement of refinance in 6 mos. Well, post decree of 6.5 years not so much…I want to sell the house and cut lose from this Lead Zeppelin! Can I evict? If I can, should I evict? Or do I file contempt of court? My objective is to get this mortgage off my back ASAP! I have been asking him to refinance for the entire 6.5 years. I went the contempt route shortly after the 6 mos but he told our then 10 & 5 year old I was sending him to jail, naturally they were devastated so I canceled the order. Now 6.5 years later they are old enough to know what’s going on. Currently, he cannot refinance, his credit is garbage since he decided to quit paying the mortgage for a year in 2016 right after our divorce and defaulted on the 2nd mortgage at the same time. There are also back taxes of 10K! If I go the contempt route & win, will my name be removed from the house, property taxes, etc… or will it be my responsibility to sell the house? He has done nothing for the last 6 years, so I don’t expect him to do anything now, like do all the work to sell a house.
    So….What is the best way to get him out of that house and me off the mortgage? The decree states these are
    all his responsibility and states I am free and clear of any debt involved with the mortgage or property taxes. HELP! Thank you so much for any insight provided.

    • You should file a contempt of court. If your judgment says he has to refinance, then the court will order him to do so within a specific period of time or order that the house will be sold. If he won’t cooperate with that process, he will be forced to vacate and then, yes, it will likely be your responsibility to get that done. It is definitely a process and doesn’t happen quickly but if you stick with it, you will get relief on this. You have been more than patient and you shouldn’t feel badly about holding him accountable. You should seek consultation with an attorney in your county to determine what your next steps are. If you reside in Milwaukee, Waukesha, Washington or Ozaukee counties, we would be happy to help. Good luck!

We welcome your comments or questions. We will do our best to try to respond. However, please be advised that we cannot give legal advice in this forum and all communications are for general informational purposes only. Communication should not be construed as forming an attorney-client relationship. This is an open forum and any information you provide may be posted and will not be held confidentially. By posting a comment or question, you are expressly giving consent for the publication of same. If you have any specific legal issues or concerns, we always recommend that you consult with an attorney in the county and state in which you reside.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s