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Wheaton Attorney for Court Order EnforcementWhen a party has violated a court order, there are several remedies the aggrieved party can request from the Court, one of which is that the violating party be held in contempt of court. There are four types of contempt: Direct Criminal Contempt, Indirect Criminal Contempt, Direct Civil Contempt, and Indirect Civil Contempt. So what do each of these types of contempt mean and which is appropriate for your situation? 

Generally speaking, the primary difference between civil and criminal contempt is the purpose for which the contempt sanctions are imposed. Civil contempt proceedings are designed with the intention of compelling the violating party to comply with the court order (“the contemnor”) or, more specifically, to perform a particular act required in the order. Criminal contempt proceedings are instituted with the purpose of punishing a person for their past misconduct. Criminal contempt is a much more extensive proceeding which requires a greater burden of proof, which is why generally in domestic relations proceedings contempt petitions are brought as civil actions.

Civil contempt proceedings have two key components. First, the contemnor must have the ability to take the action sought by the aggrieved party. Second, no further contempt sanctions will be imposed once the contemnor complies with the pertinent court order (outsides of attorneys fees which are awarded when there is a contempt finding). This means that the contemnor must have the opportunity to purge himself of contempt by complying with the pertinent court order without further penalty being imposed. In civil contempt proceedings, the petitioning party needs only to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that a contemnor has violated a valid and clear court order.  The burden then shifts to the violating party to prove that the violation of the order was not willful of contumacious.  For example, in a domestic relations case where a parent has failed to comply with a child support order, the parent owed support may bring a Petition for Indirect Civil Contempt against the non-complying parent. Usually, in these proceedings, the contemnor has the ability to purge themself of contempt by paying the outstanding child support owed without further penalty.  However, a party can be found to have violated a court order, yet not be in contempt of court because their conduct had a justifiable reason. 

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