What is a Contempt Citation?

Authored By: Colorado Legal Services


1. Someone filed a contempt citation against me. What does it mean?

When someone files a contempt citation against you, it means they are asking the Judge to punish you because they believe you have violated a court order. (A court order is a decision issued by the court.) To get the court to issue the citation, they file a motion saying what order they believe you violated and how. The court then issues the citation, which orders you to appear in court on a certain date to "show cause", or explain why you should not be held in contempt. In other words, you are ordered to come to court to explain why you are not guilty of violating the court's order. This citation must be personally served on you, which means delivered to you in person. Service by mail is not good enough.

2. What do I need to do?
Once the citation has been served on you, you must appear in court at the date and time on the citation. If you do not, the court may issue a warrant for your arrest. When you appear at the first hearing, the court will advise you of your rights. Normally, the case is not actually heard that day. One of your rights in come kinds of contempt citations is the right to be represented by a lawyer. If your income is low enough to qualify, ask for the court to appoint a lawyer to represent you. The court may appoint a lawyer to represent you at no cost in some cases. If the court appoints a lawyer to represent you, that person is only responsible for representing you in the contempt citation, not in the case itself.

3. What happens at the hearing?
The court will then set a date for the hearing on the citation itself. At that hearing, the party accusing you of being in contempt has the burden of proof to show (has to prove to the court) that there was a valid court order, that you knew about the order, that you had the ability to comply, and that you willfully violated the order. If the court finds all those things, the Judge can punish you by imposing a fine, time in jail, or both. Punishment can also be suspended and conditions imposed, such as complying with the court's order. (This means the court may ask you to begin to obey the court order, and they might not punish you this time.)

4. Are there other ways to settle this matter?
Often, contempt citations are settled by negotiation. The other side's lawyer may contact you to discuss settlement. If you reach an agreement with the other side, make sure that the agreement is either written down, signed by everyone, and given to the court, or that the agreement is stated in court on the record. That means that someone describes the agreement in open court, and all parties state that they agree to it.

Last Review and Update: Mar 01, 2013