Contempt of court (also known as contempt) is the failure of a person to obey a court order. Contempt can also be used to describe behavior that interferes with or prevents justice from being properly administered. An individual who obstructs these processes or disobeys a direct court order can be charged with contempt of court as needed.
There are two types of contempt of court: direct and indirect (also referred to as constructive) contempt. Direct contempt happens while a judge is present or nearby. This kind of activity can be a distraction to the current court proceedings. A person who lies under oath, argues with the other party or lawyers or doesn’t stand up when the judge enters the courtroom are examples of direct contempt of court.
Indirect or constructive contempt of court is any other type of contempt that doesn’t fit under the first category. Common kinds of constructive contempt are withholding evidence, not submitting evidence that has been subpoenaed, trying to bribe jurors or an attorney, not obeying a child support order and not showing up for a mandatory trial or hearing.
Anyone who has been served a protective or peace order or is currently involved in divorce proceedings should understand just what is expected of them. They could be found in contempt for not executing title or deed transfers after a divorce, taking their child across state lines without prior approval from a judge, not returning property to a former partner as ordered or not keeping health insurance coverage for any minor children that the person has custody of or visitation rights for.
What are the Penalties for Contempt of Court?
Contempt of court penalties vary according to the nature of the contempt and the situation. A judge could order the accused to pay a fine or serve time in prison if they have been found in contempt for unpaid alimony or child support. The defendant’s ability to make those payments will also be taken into consideration.
If child visitation is late due to inclement weather or traffic, the offender could technically be held in contempt. The same is true if a child support payment is a few days late. However, these incidents are usually considered to be minor. A judge could issue a verbal warning or remind the person to take precautions in the future to help avoid such delays in the future.
A person will more likely not be sentenced to any prison time if they are not able to keep up with court-ordered child or spousal support payments. Such agreements can be modified if the defendant has recently changed jobs or was dismissed from their former place of employment. The accused can also plead their case to reduce their penalties or even avoid them altogether.
Interfering with or refusing court-ordered child visitation and/or child custody orders can result in the defendant being charged with indirect contempt of court. In those instances, a judge may require a change to the current visitation. They could also require the accused party to pay the plaintiff’s attorney fees and other related costs and even grant the other party make-up time to compensate for the disruption in the schedule.
What Can I Do If I’m Found to be in Contempt of Court?
If a judge or court has decided that a person’s action is in contempt, they will issue an order during a trial or hearing. The accused person will be held or found in contempt based on any disrespect that they may have shown to court personnel or if a group or an individual has disobeyed or ignored court orders.
Be sure to read the contempt order thoroughly so that you understand your rights and responsibilities. You can disagree with the order if you prefer. This may be necessary if you feel that the order is not justified or if you feel that it may put you at an unfair advantage.
If you’ve been found in contempt of court you should reach out to an attorney for guidance. The trained professionals at JC Law will examine the facts and provide advice for possible next steps. We can even help you fight any frivolous or unnecessary contempt charges in court. Contact us today to schedule a no-obligation consultation.
Unfortunately, contempt of court has been misused by people at times. There have been incidents where people who have not received their child support payments right on time or have taken offense with their former partner’s tardiness for scheduled child visitation, even though they may have been due to circumstances beyond that person’s control. The accused may be brought into court for contempt, regardless of intention. There have also been instances where a person’s actions or lack thereof have led judges to find them in contempt. Most of these occurrences are failures to attend mandatory hearings or paying alimony or child support on time.
You don’t have to panic if you’ve been found in contempt, especially if your actions that led to the contempt were not malicious or intentional. You can also file your own contempt of court motion if you believe that the other party did not follow the terms of your child support, alimony, child visitation or other related type of agreement.
The penalties for contempt of court are relatively minor when compared to other civil and criminal charges. Even lawyers are threatened with contempt of court by certain judges from time to time. You may have to pay a small fine and/or be sentenced to a bit of jail time at the most. It can be a very important lesson to learn, one that may cause people follow agreements more closely so that both affected parties can get back on track again.