The paradigmatic coercive, civil contempt sanction, as set forth in Gompers, involves confining a contemnor indefinitely until he complies with an affirmative command such as an order to pay alimony, or to surrender property ordered to be turned over to a receiver, or to make a conveyance. Imprisonment for a fixed term similarly is coercive when the contemnor is given the option of earlier release if he complies. In these circumstances, the contemnor is able to purge the contempt and obtain his release by committing an affirmative act, and thus carries the keys of his prison in his own pocket.
And if you're jailed for a year does the child support debt grow? Because last time I checked prisoners don't earn much...
And, since a man who's in jail can't earn money to pay child support, he could theoretically stay locked up for life; so his kids would never get any support. What a wonderful system we've designed.
He finally landed a good job, one that would allow him to make his payments and also included medical benefits. But then the courts caught up with him and, since he’d fallen behind in his payments, stripped him of his license. A valid driver’s license was a condition of his new job, which he then lost. He then fell further behind, and was jailed. The courts told him he could get out once he had a job. He couldn’t get a job until he restored his ability to drive … and he couldn’t do that from jail.
Because the primary aim of a criminal contempt action is vindication of the authority of the court and punishment for disobedience already accomplished, the general rule is that purging of contempt is not a complete defense in a criminal contempt action. Consequently, a person found guilty of criminal contempt may be sentenced to a fixed and definite term of imprisonment, or be required to pay an unconditional fine. See United States v. Shipp, 203 U.S. 563 (1906); Skinner v. White, 505 F.2d 685, 689 (5th Cir. 1974).
In a civil contempt action, the issue of purging is determined by whether the action is coercive or compensatory in nature. A "coercive civil" contempt action is one wherein the principal object is respondent's compliance with the court decree. This is to be contrasted with a "compensatory civil" contempt action wherein the principal object is the receipt of an award or compensation. The contemnor in a coercive civil contempt action possesses the "keys to his own cell" since he may not be sentenced to a fixed or definite term of imprisonment or subjected to an unconditional fine. See Penfield Co. v. SEC, 330 U.S. 585, 595 (1947); Gompers v. Bucks Stove and Range Co., 221 U.S. 418, 441-42 (1911); Duell v. Duell, 178 F.2d 683, 685 (D.C.Cir. 1949); Parker v. United States, 153 F.2d 66, 70 (1st Cir. 1946). An unconditional award or fine may, however, be imposed in a compensatory civil contempt action. See McComb v. Jacksonville Paper Co., 336 U.S. 187, 191 (1949); United States v. United Mine Workers of America, 330 U.S. 258, 303-04 (1947); Backo v. Local 281, United Brothers of Carpenters and Joiners, 438 F.2d 176, 182 (2d Cir. 1970), cert. denied, 404 U.S. 858 (1971).
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