What is Contempt?
Any willful disobedience to, or disregard of, a court order or any misconduct in the presence of a court; action that interferes with a judge’s ability to administer justice or that insults the dignity of the court; punishable by fine or imprisonment or both. There are both civil and criminal contempts; the distinction is often unclear.
A judge who feels someone is improperly challenging or ignoring the court’s authority has the power to declare the defiant person (called the contemnor) in contempt of court. There are two types of contempt, criminal and civil. Criminal contempt occurs when the contemnor actually interferes with the ability of the court to function properly – for example, by yelling at the judge. This is also called direct contempt because it occurs directly in front of the judge. A criminal contemnor may be fined, jailed or both as punishment for his act.
Civil contempt occurs when the contemnor willfully disobeys a court order. This is also called indirect contempt because it occurs outside the judge’s immediate realm and evidence must be presented to the judge to prove the contempt. A civil contemnor, too, may be fined, jailed or both. The fine or jailing is meant to coerce the contemnor into obeying the court, not to punish him, and the contemnor will be released from jail just as soon as he complies with the court order. In family law, civil contempt is one way a court enforces alimony, child support, custody and visitation orders which have been violated.
If someone has violated a Court Order such as failing to pay child support or refusing parenting time under a Parenting Plan, then a Petition for Contempt is filed with the Court and served upon the party violating the Order.