What is a Contempt Action After Divorce?

In the event that your former spouse refuses to follow the terms of a Divorce Judgment issued by the Massachusetts Probate and Family Court, your recourse is to file a Complaint for Contempt seeking enforcement of that Judgment.  In order for the Judge to find your former spouse in contempt, there must be:

  • A clear and unequivocal order;
  • Willful disobedience of that order; and
  • The ability to comply with the order.

It is imperative that your Separation Agreement is drafted with this contempt standard in mind.  As such, the Agreement should include specific deadlines for completion of actions; otherwise, the terms of your Separation Agreement may be considered “vague,” which may cause you to be unsuccessful on your contempt action.

For instance, it is my opinion that a term such as “we will sell the house in the future” may be considered “vague” because it is not clear at which point in the “future” must the house be sold.  If the Judge deems the language of the Agreement to be vague, he or she may not find your former spouse in contempt.  In most instances, it would be my opinion that you should include a specific deadline on which the house must be placed on the market for sale, such as “we will place the house on the market for sale within ninety (90) days” because there is a specific deadline that a Judge would be able to enforce.  Further, if there is a willful disobedience of a clear and unequivocal order, it is more likely that you will be successful on a request for payment of your attorney fees associated with your contempt action.

If you have questions in regards to a potential contempt action, you should contact an experienced family law attorney to discuss the same.


  • Jennifer R. Silva, Esq.



Top Boston MA Divorce Law Firm

Jennifer R. Silva, Esq.

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