As a judge in Colorado from 1995-2002, I used to go around the state lecturing judges from all over the state about the different types of contempt (indirect v. direct) (remedial v. punitive) and how the contempt motion is to be filed and the options available to the judge if contempt is proven.


Indirect contempt

Most contempt is indirect. Indirect contempt means that a party's violation of a court order has occurred outside of the sight or hearing of the judge. This is the vast majority of contempt. Contempt might be the failure to pay child support, the failure to pay maintenance, the failure to exchange personal property ordered in a divorce, etc. The person filing for the Motion for Contempt needs to provide a Verified Affidavit (signed in front of a notary) stating forth what the Court's order was and exactly how the other party violated the court order. One essential element that needs to be shown is that the person allegedly in violation had the ability to comply with the court order and simply refused to comply. An inability to comply (lost their job through no fault of their own) can be an absolute defense to the claim that a person is willfully and knowingly in violation of the court order.


Direct contempt

This is when the contempt occurs directly in front of the judge and needs to be sanctioned right away. No warning to the person in contempt is necessary. This type of contempt is meant to insure the integrity and dignity of the court. Oftentimes, this is a situation in which someone comes to court incredibly drunk for a DUI sentencing. Or, it might be a situation in which a litigant swears at or insults the judge. On one occasion, after finding that a young man had stalked his ex-girlfriend and a permanent restraining order was to be issues, the father of the young man (the father was blind) referred to me as an a-hole and that the court was a "kangaroo court." Despite warning him a few times, he continued with such language an I eventually sentenced him to a night in jail.


Remedial contempt

When you file for remedial contempt, you are trying to get the party to comply with the Court order. If you are successful, you are awarded your attorneys fees and costs. The person in contempt can be sentenced to up to 6 months of jail. However, they can purge the contempt by coming into compliance with the court orders and paying child support, maintenance, etc. This is a win-win proposition. It holds the person found in contempt accountable and holds their feet to the fire. However, it does not simply lock them up and throw away the key. It gets the person in violation to finally comply and the person seeking contempt to be made whole again.


Punitive contempt

I strongly recommend against people just seeking punitive contempt. You don't get your attorneys fees and court costs reimbursed in punitive contempt. Basically, you are just seeking to have the person thrown in jail for 6 months and have the key thrown away. The person in violation can't purge the contempt by getting into compliance. The person just goes to jail for violating the court order. It does not make the person who is not getting paid whole again, it does not appease the violation of the court order, and it just sends a message to the person in contempt that they are going to jail for up to 6 months with no recourse to get out of it. It is only to be exercised in the most extreme situations.