“I’m GOING TO HOLD YOU IN CONTEMPT!” We hear this phrase thrown around A LOT in family law cases.
Civil Contempt occurs when the person willfully disobeys a court order. This is also called indirect contempt because it happens outside the judge’s immediate realm and evidence must be presented to the judge to prove the contempt. A person may be fined, jailed or both. The fine or jailing is meant to force the person into obeying the court, not to punish him, and the person will be released from jail just as soon as he complies with the court order. In family law, civil contempt is one way a court enforces alimony, child support, custody and visitation orders which have been violated.
Criminal Contempt = when someone actually interferes with the ability of the court to function properly – for example, by yelling at the judge. This is also called direct contempt because it occurs directly in front of the judge. The person may be fined, jailed or both as punishment for his act.
There are some more nuances involved, but this should give you a general idea.