What is Contempt of Court and How Does It Affect Me?

Contempt of court is failure to comply with the authority of the court.

There are two categories of contempt: direct and indirect. Direct contempt involves behavior in the courtroom – for instance, refusing to answer a judge’s questions. Indirect contempt involves behavior outside of the courtroom, such as failing to comply with a court order.

When it comes to family law and divorce proceedings, the most common area for contempt of court is child support. Specifically, a party may be in contempt of court when he or she fails to pay child support as ordered by the court. Because child support payments are due monthly, there are many opportunities for noncompliance. Other areas where contempt concerns may arise include alimony, child custody, and property separation orders.

What do I do if I think my ex is in contempt of court?

If you believe your ex is in contempt, you (or your attorney) may file a Motion for Citation for Contempt of Court stating that (1) a valid order of the court was in place, (2) the offending party knew about the order, (3) the offending party had the ability to comply with the order, and (4) the offending party failed to comply with the order.

You may request that the court find the other party in either (or both) remedial contempt or punitive contempt. Remedial contempt is designed to encourage the offending party to comply. Under remedial contempt, you must show, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the four elements outlined above are satisfied. “By a preponderance of the evidence” means it is “more likely than not” the elements are satisfied. You may request a fine or imprisonment be imposed on the other party until he or she complies with the order, as well as payment your attorney’s fees incurred in connection with the contempt proceeding.

Punitive contempt, on the other hand, is meant to punish the offending party for not complying with the order. Instead of simply showing that the offending party didn’t comply, you must show that the other party willfully defied the order. Again, you may request a fine or a fixed term of imprisonment be imposed on the other party. The burden of proving punitive contempt is much higher than for remedial contempt: in addition to proving the other elements, you must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the failure to comply with the order was willful.

What do I do if I have been charged with contempt of court?

If you are charged with contempt, it is in your best interest to make payments or otherwise comply with the order, if you can, as soon as possible. The court will schedule a hearing on the Motion for Citation for Contempt of Court, which you must attend. If you do not, the court may issue a bench warrant for your arrest. At the hearing, you will be able to defend against the citation and explain why you should not be held in contempt.

The court will consider the circumstances surrounding your failure to comply with an order in determining whether to hold you in contempt. Failure to comply might not automatically result in a contempt citation. For instance, if you have lost your job, the court may find that you are unable to pay the ordered child support and therefore determine you are not in contempt.

If you are found to be in contempt, you may have to pay a fine, be subjected to jail time, and/or have to pay the other party’s attorney fees.

Contempt proceedings take time. Generally, it takes two to four months to resolve a contempt citation, but it can take longer. Often, failure to comply with an order can be resolved through negotiations by your attorneys, rather than through the court. If you need help with your situation, call us at 720-542-6142 or contact us here to speak with one of our attorneys.