7 Things to Know When Being Sued for Civil or Criminal Contempt

1. There are two kinds of contempt – Civil and Criminal. Civil Contempt is used to enforce the rights of a party by forcing compliance with a court order. Criminal Contempt is utilized to uphold the respect due the Court and to punish violations of its orders.

2. The general distinction is that Civil Contempt is used when the goal of the contempt may still be accomplished – the party sought to be held in contempt may still perform the action ordered (such as pay child support that is due).

Criminal Contempt is generally applied where civil contempt has not forced compliance with an order, or the contempt cannot rectify the violation (a parent withheld the child over a holiday -that particular holiday will never occur again.)

3. You cannot be held in Civil Contempt if you obey the order prior to the entry of the contempt order. However, the other party may still be awarded attorney fees if that party did or would have prevailed at the hearing.

4. You may be incarcerated for being held in either Civil or Criminal Contempt. Criminal Contempt requires a fixed time-period for the sentence. It may be suspended, but it may not be purged through actions.

Civil Contempt provides for an indefinite period of jail time…until purged, but you must have been proved to have the present ability to purge the contempt. “Purge” = comply with the order to a substantial degree.

5. A person will be found to be in Civil Contempt when:

·     The Court Order remains in effect.

·     The purpose of the Order may still be accomplished.

·     The violation is willful.

·     The person has the preset ability to comply or to take reasonable steps to comply.

6. Imprisonment is the only remedy for Civil Contempt, but the Order must contain a way to terminate the contempt, the “purge” provision.

7.  You may be required to pay some or all the attorney fees of the aggrieved party if such party has insufficient means to defray the costs the motion and such party acted in good faith.

Although, it is commonly thought one may not recover attorneys’ fees in criminal contempt actions, there is case law that supports allowing attorneys’ fees in cases involving matters that have attorney fees allowances by statute- such as alimony, child support and custody.

If you need to enforce a Court Order or defend a contempt action against you, the knowledgeable and skilled Family Law Team of Weaver, Bennett & Bland, P.A, is willing and able to assist you.

About the Author: Bill Whittaker

Bill is an Attorney and Partner at Weaver, Bennett & Bland.  He is a distinguished family law attorney with over thirty years’ experience in helping his clients navigate difficult periods in their lives.