What is Civil Contempt?
Civil contempt is a fancy way of saying you violated the court's orders.
Typically a contempt finding with enter when you fail to pay a court-ordered award of child support or alimony.
But a contempt finding can also enter if you refuse to hand over property, disclose information or turn over court-ordered documents.
How Does it Differ From Criminal Contempt?
Criminal contempt typically entails some sort of active interference with the functioning of the court.
For example: Telling the judge to go "F" himself when he enters a ruling.
One-way ticket to the big house. Don't do that.
What is the Applicable Standard of Proof?
Civil contempt must be proven by clear and convincing evidence.
The court must find that you were aware of the order.
The order was not ambiguous or subject to reasonable misinterpretation.
And that whatever you did -- or did not do -- violated the order.
Can You Raise Defenses to a Contempt?
There are all sorts of defenses you can raise against a finding of contempt.
You could demonstrate to the court that -- although you were aware of the order -- you were unable comply with the order.
Or you could argue that there was a good-faith basis for your conduct that justified your non-compliance.
Or you could argue that the order was vague ... or that your opponent was equally guilty of some form of offsetting misconduct (unclean hands).
There are other defenses and strategies to be employed ... but you get the picture.
You need to evaluate the facts of each case separately.
But remember: Just because you think there is good cause for non-compliance ... does not mean the judge will agree.
Best to get a professional expert opinion.
What Sort of Sanctions Can the Judge Impose?
Fines are one option. And typically you will end up having to pay the other side's lawyer.
But the most common sanction for non-payment of domestic support is civil Incarceration.
How Long Can You Be Incarcerated for Civil Contempt?
There is no limit. Days. Months. Years. Completely up to the judge.
But You Get a Right to Jury Trial, Right ...?
No jury trial. No guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. No right to a speedy trial.
The average criminal on the street has more rights.
Do Innocent People Get Locked Up?
The premise is that you can release yourself at any time by simply doing whatever it is that the court ordered you to do.
The problem is what the judge thinks you can do, and what you can actually do, may not be one and the same.
And that's a serious problem.
Where Do You Get Locked Up for Civil Contempt?
High-security correctional facility. On lock down for 23 to 24 hours a day.
Who is at Highest Risk for Civil Incarceration?
Self-employed individuals. Hands down.
Unlike a wage earner, it is not often clear to the court how much you earn and what's left over.
Support orders are supposed to be based on your net income -- not your gross.
And yet ...
So You Should Beg Borrow & Steal to Avoid a Contempt, Right ...?
Not necessarily. Most lawyers will tell you this. And (admittedly) there are limited instances when this might not be a bad idea.
But more often than not, it is a short-sighted strategy that not only bankrupts you -- it bankrupts the people who care about you.
And -- if money magically appears every time you are threatened with contempt -- it often encourages the opposition to relentlessly pursue you, time and time again.
This often leads to abuse and ruin.
Sometimes -- and quite often -- the better strategy is to dig in your heals and fight.
It takes courage. And sacrifice. Few lawyers will advise you to do this.
But in the long term ... taking a hard stand asserting your rights may be the only way to break them.
I've used this strategy. I believe in this strategy. And it works.
How Do You Pay for a Lawyer When You Are Charged With Contempt?
As a practical matter, someone other than you will have to pay my legal bill. The court's typically take the position that if you have money for a lawyer, you have money for support, and the opposition will certainly make a big deal about your paying me instead of the person to whom the support is owed.
For better or worse, that argument resonates with the judges.
So (invariably) someone else will have to step up to the plate.
If you are indigent, the state will appoint an attorney to represent you.
But, sort of like a public defender, you get what pay for.
Did I mention your liberty and freedom is at stake?
So What Should I Do?
Simple. Call me.
You will be hard pressed to find a more knowledgeable and aggressive contempt attorney than Zenas Zelotes Esq.
Defending civil contempt cases is something I care very deeply about.
Because I've been in your shoes. I've experienced the injustices first hand. I know what's at stake. And I know how to win.
I'll give you an honest option about your situation, and an unique perspective you will not get from your run-of-the-mill family attorney.
Do it now.
Just may be the most important phone call you make.