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What is the Penalty for a Violation of Court Order?

By C. Mitchell
Updated May 16, 2024
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Courts issue orders compelling people to do certain things for a wide variety of purposes, but all share at least one thing in common: violation is subject to penalty. Most of the time, courts spell out the cost of disobeying a court order the moment the order is issued. Penalties range from fines to civil charges and, in some cases, even jail time. The precise penalties that attach to any violation of court order are usually a matter of judicial discretion, and are always set and authorized by the local law. Violating a court order in one place may yield a different penalty than a similar violation would elsewhere, though much depends on local law and the facts at play.

The cost of violating a court order is often calculated based on the nature and significance of the facts that gave rise to the order in the first place. A court’s order for one party to appear is usually less serious than a court order requiring a person to keep a certain distance from another person or cease contact with another person, for instance. Most of the time, penalties follow a similar pattern.

A failure to appear to comply with an order requiring appearance in court usually subjects a person to a fine. If the appearance was as a key witness or primary party, the choice to disobey court orders for appearance can also subject a person to contempt of court charges, default judgment, or case dismissal. In most cases, the decision to issue a penalty for this kind of court order violation belongs to the presiding judge. The range of applicable penalties is usually set by statute, however. This means that the judge may only apply a penalty for violation of court order from a legislatively approved list — he or she cannot independently conceive of the penalty.

Breaking more serious court orders, particularly those involving the health and welfare of other people, is often subject to steeper penalties. Violation of court orders for child support can lead a court to garnish a defaulting parent’s wages, for instance, or place liens on that parent’s property. Similarly, violating a court order that is a protection order or a no-contact order can lead to the violator’s incarceration. In these and similar instances, the court is not merely punishing the violator, it is taking steps to ensure that the order is enforced at almost any cost.

Courts typically only make orders when certain actions are required for some larger purpose. It follows, then, that exacting penalties for court order violations both helps the court maintain authority, and acts as a means of ensuring that the court’s judgments and mandates are acted upon. Penalties vary by jurisdiction and by order, but rarely does a violation of court order go unpunished.

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Discussion Comments

By anon285991 — On Aug 18, 2012

My daughter died in May 2012. Her ex-partner, who had a civil court order to only get the child, aged 8 years old on fridays. My daughter was not in good health and I was awarded my grandson sunday night to friday afternoons and with us being her carer along with looking after my grandson, I had my grandson three days a week while she attended hospital for dialysis. She also had other health issues. Now her ex-partner has refused to return the child back. Is he in breach or in violation of the court order?

By rollnr — On Apr 25, 2012

When you get a no-contact order against you does that apply to the other party as well?

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