Criminal Contempt of Court in Florida

March 18, 2015

When a court issues an order, such as for child or spousal support or to enforce a parenting plan, that order must be obeyed. Unfortunately, sometimes parents and ex-spouses do not fully cooperate with the court’s orders. If that happens, courts have several tools at their disposal to encourage cooperation or to punish noncompliance. One important tool is the initiation of  contempt proceedings.

In Florida, there are two types of contempt. Civil contempt is designed to encourage or coerce compliance with a court order, and is initiated by the party who wishes to force compliance with the order. The other type of contempt is criminal contempt.

Criminal Contempt

Criminal contempt of court has been  defined as “any act which is calculated to embarrass, hinder, or obstruct the court in the administration of justice, or which is calculated to lessen its authority or its dignity.” It is used when a party has willfully disregarded a court order or has otherwise hindered the court’s workings or acted contemptuously of the court.

In contrast with civil contempt, criminal contempt is designed to punish a party for not complying with a judge’s order, rather than to force compliance. Thus, unlike civil contempt, criminal contempt orders do not include purge provisions, which are provisions in the order specifying acts to take to absolve the noncompliant party of contempt.

Criminal contempt proceedings are a criminal charge, and are initiated by a criminal prosecutor or by the court, rather than by the party trying to enforce the court order. This means that the prosecutor or the judge, not the party, has the responsibility of proving contempt at the hearing.

Direct Contempt

Criminal contempt charges come in two varieties: direct and indirect.  Direct contempt is used when a party disobeys or disrespects the court in the actual presence of the court. The court must enter a judgment of guilty of contempt that states the facts on which the contempt is based. Before issuing the judgment, the court must give the defendant opportunity to present evidence as to why he or she should not be found guilty of contempt.

Indirect Contempt

Indirect contempt is used when a party disobeys a court order outside the judge’s presence. In indirect contempt proceedings, a “show cause” hearing must be held before adjudication. At the show cause hearing, the defendant is given the chance to present evidence and testimony regarding why he or she should not be adjudicated guilty and punished. After the hearing, the court may issue a judgment of guilt stating the factual basis for the contempt.

Consequences

The consequences for criminal contempt, which is a common law crime, can be severe. If a judge finds a party to be in contempt of court, sanctions can include imprisonment of up to one year, fines, or both.

If you are having trouble complying with a court order, or if you are facing criminal contempt charges, the advice of an experienced attorney is important. Please contact  West Palm Beach family law attorney William Wallshein for a free initial consultation.