Ways To Avoid Indirect Civil Contempt

Contempt is the primary means that family law courtrooms use in Illinois to gain compliance of temporary orders and Judgments. In the event someone willfully and without compelling cause or justification, violates a court order, then they could be subject to indirect civil contempt, under Illinois law. However, indirect civil contempt is different than criminal contempt, because indirect civil contempt is meant to “coerce” someone into compliance.

For example, let’s say someone’s obligation to pay support is $500 per month, due on the 1st of the month, each month, and they fail to pay. If they have the ability to pay it (money in the bank adequate to pay it, or, they purchased items or spent money on other things when the support was due, in lieu of paying support) then this is likely going to be considered contempt. That is because the person COULD have paid, but “chose” not to.

However, if someone has a support obligation of $500 per month and they are unable to pay because they have no money available to them, despite their best efforts to obtain employment, and, they are making payments, just not the full $500 per month, then the Judge would have discretion to say that this is not contempt, if they believe the person is acting in good faith.

There are ways to effectively avoid contempt proceedings even when there is a willful violation. Under Illinois law, if someone “purges” himself of the contempt prior to the Contempt petition being brought, they can no longer be held in contempt of court. So, technically, per the prior example, if someone owes $500 per month in support and has not paid for three months, but pays the $1500 overdue prior to the court proceedings, the Court could find that they are no longer held in “contempt” because they have purged themselves. Indirect Civil Contempt is to coerce compliance with an order, so once the order is complied with, Indirect Civil Contempt has “done its job”, so to speak. However, all situations are unique and these are just examples; Judges have a wide range of discretion when determining each unique case.

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