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Defending Motions for Civil Contempt, Appeals

For motions for contempt, the movant must prove that the (1) contemnor had an obligation to perform or refrain from an action as required by a court order and that (2) the contemnor intentionally/willfully failed to meet the court ordered obligation. Broadly speaking, someone can be held in either criminal contempt of court or civil contempt of court.

The focus here is on civil contempt. The purpose of a civil contempt order is to compel compliance with the relief granted. Emmons v. Emmons, 310 S.W.3d 718, 722 (Mo. Ct. App. 2010). A party held to be in civil contempt has two options (1) purge himself/herself of the contempt by complying with the court’s order, making the case moot and un-appealable, or (2) appeal the  order, but only after the court’s order is enforced by incarceration or otherwise. Lieurance v. Lieurance, 111 S.W.3d 445, 446 (Mo. Ct. App. 2003).An appellate court will not review contempt proceedings where the  contemnor has complied with the order or has purged himself/herself. Yeager v. Yeager, 622 S.W.2d 339, 343 (Mo. Ct. App. 1981).

Assume, then, that you are held in civil contempt for failure to pay $10,000 as required by a court order. Your options would be to pay the amount and thereby render the matter moot, or persist through the court’s orders of enforcement and appeal. Like with all appeals, strong deference is often given to the trial court’s rulings, notwithstanding the fact that some standards of review purport to have little to no deference to the trial court’s conclusions.

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