What Does It Mean to be in Contempt of Court?

Contempt of court.

What Does It Mean to be in Contempt of Court?

When a person is held in contempt of court, they are found to have willfully disobeyed or disrupted a court order or legal proceeding. Criminal contempt of court is defined in A.R.S. 12-861 as willfully disobeying “a lawful writ, process, order or judgment of a superior court by doing an act or thing therein or thereby forbidden, if the act or thing done also constitutes a criminal offense.” Typically, this means that an individual knew they had a court order which they deliberately failed to comply with. However, a person can also be held in civil contempt, often for a failure to abide by court-orders stemming from family law cases.

A person may be held in contempt of court for many reasons, including:

  • Refusing to answer a question or provide evidence pursuant to court order in a criminal proceeding.
  • Refusing to comply with a subpoena.
  • Refusing to be sworn or to testify as a witness.
  • Disrupting court proceedings.
  • Failing to appear for jury duty.
  • Failing to pay child support or spousal maintenance.
  • Failure to abide by court-ordered legal decision-making or parenting time orders.
  • Violating a protective order.

Once found in contempt of court, a person’s punishment will vary depending on whether they are being held in criminal contempt or civil contempt.

Criminal Contempt of Court

A person held in criminal contempt may receive an “order to show cause,” requiring them to appear in court to provide an explanation for their disobedience and give reason as to why they should not be punished. If the court still holds the individual in contempt, they may face trial for the offense.

Being found guilty of criminal contempt is a class 2 misdemeanor, punishable by up to four months in jail and fines up to $750. However, contempt linked to a felony charge can result in an additional felony charge.

Civil Contempt of Court

When it comes to non-criminal contempt, such as a parent failing to follow a mandated parenting time agreement, a court action must be filed asking to hold the other party in contempt for violating a court order. A court hearing will likely be held to force the person in contempt to comply. Multiple or serious infractions can result in a judge modifying the court order that is currently in place. Additionally, a person held in civil contempt may face jail time until they comply.

In some cases of civil contempt, the issue can be resolved without court involvement. This may be accomplished by having a candid discussion with the other party or having an attorney send a letter to them requesting that their compliance.


If you have been held in contempt of court, whether civil or criminal, you should contact an attorney immediately for the best plan of action to proceed. Rideout Law Group is able to oversee contempt matters regarding both criminal and family law issues.



With offices in Lake Havasu City and Scottsdale, our firm serves the entire state of Arizona, with a particular focus on criminal defense, family law, and juvenile cases.

Our goal is for the best outcome for your criminal case, which can include:

  • charges that are reduced or dropped.
  • top experts reviewing your case.
  • aggressive negotiations with the prosecution for plea bargains.
  • fines or probation in lieu of jail time.

At Rideout Law Group, our attorneys are able to expertly examine the evidence in your case to provide a strong strategy for argument that leads to an outcome that is most favorable to you. We have experience in all types of criminal cases for both adults and juveniles, with positive outcomes both in plea negotiations as well as jury trial settings.

Call us today for a free consultation at 480-584-3328.

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