“Contempt of Court” is a phrase most of us have heard at some point in our lives. However, other than being familiar with the phrase, many have a very limited understanding of how contempt works and when it can be used. For instance, many do not know just how common contempt proceedings can be in child custody cases. But, you may be wondering, what is contempt? How can I defend against allegations of contempt in custody cases? In this blog, we provide brief overview of contempt, and provide advice on how you can defend yourself against contempt allegations.
In Indiana, there are two different types of contempt pursuant to statute.1 Those are indirect contempt and direct contempt. Direct contempt occurs when conduct is done in the presence of court. For example, an individual can be found in direct contempt of court when that individual does some act near the court, during the court proceeding, or when interfering with the business of the court. Direct contempt is the less common of the two in custody cases, but be aware of the possibility.
Indirect contempt, on the other hand, is defined as “willful disobedience” of a court order. In short, an individual can be found in indirect contempt when refusing to follow a court’s validly entered order outside the presence of the judge. To demonstrate, one common instance of indirect contempt in custody cases are instances of individuals who refuse to follow a parenting time schedule that is part of a court order. Another common contempt proceeding in custody cases is when a parent refuses to pay child support.
Contempt, both direct and indirect, can be either criminal or civil in nature. A person can be found in “criminal contempt” for performing an act that is directed against the dignity and authority of the court. Criminal contempt is punitive in nature. The purpose of criminal contempt is to punish the individual and to vindicate the authority of the court. “Civil contempt” on the other hand, occurs when an individual does something, or fails to do something, in a civil action that harms the opposing party. Unlike criminal contempt, civil contempt is not meant to “punish” the individual, but instead, to coerce action for the benefit of the aggrieved party. Because civil contempt is not meant to punish, sanctions for civil contempt must be coercive or remedial in nature.
Remember judges are tasked with solving a problem no one else can solve. We all need to respect a court, courthouse, and judge for our way of life and freedom to exist as it does today. A contempt finding may do irreparable harm to your case. Be aware! We hope you find this material useful to educate you about any such issue you face. This blog post is written by attorneys at Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. and is for general educational purposes only. It is not legal advice, or solicitation for legal services. Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. attorneys handle both civil and criminal cases, as well as appeals from all Indiana state trial courts, Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, or United States Supreme Court.