Court orders typically enforced through contempt proceedings include refusals to permit or cooperate with parenting time or visitation plans, joint decision-making requirements, and failure to pay child support or maintenance. Martin Law Firm provides legal representation in both the prosecution and defense of contempt proceedings.
Discussed below are some of the legal issues that arise in contempt of court proceedings, the rulings by the appellate courts on the topic and what may really happen in family court. There is a mixture of legal interpretation and opinion on the issues discussed. The reader should only consider the information as commentary and not as legal advice for any particular case, including the reader's case! The reader is cautioned to consult a lawyer about their particular situation and how the law may apply to their case. Martin Law Firm regularly represents persons in contempt proceedings and is available to meet with the reader to discuss their particular case.
Contempt is defined by Rule 107 of the Colorado Rules of Civil Procedure as: “disorderly or disruptive behavior, a breach of the peace, boisterous conduct or violent disturbance toward the court, or conduct that unreasonably interrupts the due course of judicial proceedings; behavior that obstructs the administration of justice; disobedience or resistance by any person to or interference with any lawful writ, process, or order of the court; or any other act or omission designated as contempt by the statutes or these rules.”
Direct contempt is some action or behavior “that the court has seen or heard and is so extreme that no warning is necessary or that has been repeated despite the court's warning to desist.” Normally, it may be punished immediately. The most common examples of direct contempt include appearing at a hearing under the influence or talking back to the judge.
Indirect contempt is far more common, and it is an action or behavior that occurs outside the presence of the Court. This can include a failure of one person to pay marital debts, or child support, failure to abide by a separation agreement or parenting plan, or other court order. Any disobedience of a court order can be sanctioned via contempt. In these situations, a party files a Motion for Contempt alleging what behavior has occurred and requesting relief from the Court. The requested relief typically involves remedial and punitive sanctions.
Remedial sanctions are designed to encourage further cooperation with the court orders. They are not a form of punishment. In order to succeed with a remedial contempt motion, a party has to prove the existence of a court order, that the other person had knowledge of and did not comply with. Remedial contempt also requires a present ability to comply with the court order. The standard of proof is a preponderance of the evidence. The sanctions for remedial contempt can be varied, but it can include a jail term until the person complies with the court order. Costs and attorney fees may be awarded as well.
Punitive sanctions are designed to punish for conduct that is found to be offensive to the authority and dignity of the court. If a person is indigent, they may have the right to court-appointed counsel to assist them because there is a threat of jail time. The maximum jail sentence is six (6) months, unless there is a jury trial. Just like in a criminal trial, the person is presumed innocent and the standard of proof required is beyond a reasonable doubt. There is also a right to remain silent and to cross-examine witnesses. In order to succeed with a punitive contempt motion, a party has to prove the existence of a court order, that the other person had knowledge of, and that they did not comply with. Punitive contempt also requires proof of a willful refusal to comply with the court order. The Court has the authority to impose a fine or a fixed jail sentence if it determines that the person willfully violated the court order.