Virginia's Judicial System

Lynchburg Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court: Show Cause Contempt-Custody, Visitation, Support

The content of this page was provided by the Lynchburg Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court and has been posted on Virginia's Judicial System Web site as a courtesy to the Lynchburg Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court.

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.

The petitioner must state whether he or she is asking for a criminal or a civil contempt proceeding. The motion for show cause must state whether criminal or civil contempt is sought and include the relevant section of the Va. Code.


If CRIMINAL contempt is sought for a violation of a court order, the sections of the 1950 Code of Virginia that are relevant are:

  • §18.2-456 which allows a sentence of up to 10 days incarceration if the person charged is found guilty; OR
  • §16.1-278.16, which allows a sentence of up to 12 months incarceration if the person charged is found guilty.

If CIVIL contempt is sought for a violation of a court order §16.1-292 allows for a disposition that might include incarceration until the contempt is purged (for example the support arrearage or a portion of it is paid or the child returned to the lawful custodian, or as ordered in each particular case). In this court the time that a person can be held in jail cannot exceed 12 months on a finding of guilt of contempt.

Definitions And Descriptions

  1. Contempt Defined (Common Law): An act in disrespect of the court or its processes; or which obstructs the administration of justice; or which tends to bring the court into disrepute. It includes any act which is calculated to embarrass, hinder or obstruct the court in the discharge of its responsibilities.
  2. Categories of Contempt
    • Criminal Contempt: A criminal proceeding intended to punish a person for an act or omission that has already occurred. Prosecuted in the name of the Commonwealth, it is punitive in nature, and many of the usual protections of a criminal proceeding apply (such as written notice of charges; compulsory process; proof beyond a reasonable doubt; assistance of counsel).

      Punishment is usually in the form of a fixed fine and/or fixed jail sentence, and the contemnor has not power to change the punishment, i.e. "purge" the contempt. The jail sentence, if given, is for a definite period of time.

    • Civil Contempt: A civil proceeding intended to enforce the rights of private parties or compel a person to comply with a prior order of the court (such as a support order; an order to turn over property, etc.). It is remedial and coercive, rather than punitive, is usually initiated by the party in whose favor the order runs, and does not require the protections of a criminal proceeding.

      Punishment is usually conditional. That is, a growing fine and/or indefinite jail sentence until the person purges the contempt, i.e., by complying with the court's order. Civil contemnors "carry the keys of the prison in their own pockets."