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Contempt of Court

Contempt is a process where a Colorado court can enforce its orders. You can be held in contempt for both a (1) direct violation of a court order or an (2) indirect violation. A direct contempt can occur when the judge him or herself observes the conduct in the courtroom. This involves situations like the ones you might see on television or in a movie where the witness disobeys the judge in the middle of the courtroom and the court holds the person in contempt. Indirect contempt is where the person violates a court order outside the presence of the judge. This type of contempt is far more common and is the one worth discussing. Contempts often arise in dissolution of marriage actions and parenting-related litigation.

Remedial vs. Punitive Contempt

Contempts are covered by Colorado law in a rule called C.R.C.P. 107. The rule explains that there are two types of contempts, (1) remedial and (2) punitive.


Remedial Contempt

In general, a remedial contempt is one where the person is asking the court to “remedy” the violation of the court order and force the person to comply. In its simplest form, this sort of contempt is used to persuade the person to comply with the court’s orders. As an example, the person might put a person in jail until they pay a certain amount or fine a person every day until they do something they are supposed to do. The key to remedial contempt is the idea that the contempt goes away once the problem has been fixed (or, in legal terminology, “purged”). That is, if a person is ordered to sit in jail until he or she pays, then when payment is made the jail time is no longer necessary.


Punitive Contempt

Punitive contempt is different because it involves punishing the person. Rather than fining the person or having them sit in jail until compliance, punitive contempt involves the person suffering a consequence whether they comply with the court order or not. Punitive contempts are used to “vindicate the dignity of the court” and to impose “punishment” on the person. People v. Razatos, 699 P.2d 970, 974 (Colo. 1985). In general, punitive contempts are used to ensure that a person does not violate the court’s orders again and so that the court can ensure that it and the law are not disrespected.


Types of Sanctions for Contempt

Under the rule, a court can impose a fine or imprison the person who it finds in contempt. The other amounts owing could include attorney fees and costs under some circumstances as well as interest and other penalties. Often, the sanction depends on what court order the person violated and how they violated it (willfully, accidentally, etc.).


Consequences & Sanctions for Contempt

If someone is held in contempt, there can be grave consequences. The sanctions that a court may impose include fines, attorney fees, costs, and jail time. With a remedial contempt, the judge can order that a person be placed in jail until they comply with the order. With a punitive contempt, the person may go to jail regardless of whether they comply.

Our firm has seen many contempts of all varieties. Most often, people do not go to jail. However, the action that does land some people in jail is refusing to pay court-ordered amounts of money. Jail time is often until the person complies with the court’s order, which can be a day or possibly longer. Because the amount of time spent in jail depends on how quickly the person complies, it is hard to predict how long the person may be placed in jail for contempt.