What Happens if I Disobey a Court Order?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The penalties for disobeying a court order vary depending on the jurisdiction and the nature of the order and may include fines, time in jail, and the issuance of a bench warrant to compel the person to appear in court. If a court order appears to be impossible to obey, the subject should discuss the matter with the judge to reach a resolution, rather than simply fail to comply with it. Attorneys can assist people with the process of reading through a court order and determining how to respond.

Courts can issue fines and jail time to those who fail to abide by their rulings.
Courts can issue fines and jail time to those who fail to abide by their rulings.

Court orders are legal documents mandating a person or organization to engage in a particular action, like paying child support or providing proof of insurance. They can also work in reverse, ordering people not to do something; a court order could, for example, take the form of an injunction ordering a company to stop selling a given product until the court has had a chance to hear a consumer suit.

Jail time is one possible consequence of disobeying a court order.
Jail time is one possible consequence of disobeying a court order.

In some cases, the penalty for a violation is a fine, with the judge determining the amount on the basis of the contents of the court order. In cases where the order was a demand to pay compensatory funds to someone, the judge can require the subject to pay interest on the money in addition to paying the principal balance. People who receive a judgment against them with an order to pay money but know they cannot pay it should meet with the court to discuss a payment plan and other options.

Purposefully disobeying a court order may result in a contempt motion being filed.
Purposefully disobeying a court order may result in a contempt motion being filed.

In the case of an order to appear in court, the judge can issue a bench warrant to make the person show up. Police officers and other law enforcement will receive a copy of the warrant, and they can bring the person into court to face a hearing. The warrant will remain outstanding until the subject appears in court, and in some regions having an outstanding warrant may make it difficult to pass background checks or do things like registering a car.

Jail time is also an option in some instances. Judges can opt for jail time when failure to comply with an order results in a disruption to the court or the judge feels the subject is disrespecting the court. The length of the sentence varies. Some judges may also mandate community service. This information will go on a person's record and can become an issue in the future.

Someone who is charged with contempt of court may face arrest.
Someone who is charged with contempt of court may face arrest.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


In 2008, my wife got into work related auto accident.

She went to trial against the attorney's advice. She rejected the settlement of a lesser amount, because they didn't include past and future medical costs.

The judgment was in favor of my wife, but the insurance keeps denying for needed and physical therapy, services, braces, equipments and we were going through a tough time.

When our attorney came to know that here medicare has been approved, our attorney got mad at us, he asked, why did you appeal for Social security now Insurance took away settlement out of table. The reason Medicare asked half A million dollar for medical set aside.

We were pressurized to fire my wife's current pain management Doctor because insurance told so. But we did not, as he is very good Doctor. We know it's his prescribed medication, and his motivation. She is at least alive today. My wife is breaking apart.

Again after many arguments, out lawyer filed penalty petition for services and equipment she needs. She is in dire need of home health services and home care services which are prescribed by her doctor. The judgment was again in favor of her, but still they are denying the services, the judge clearly stated. It seems they don't care or they don't come under the system established by court.

Please help us out of this arduous situation. Our attorney and workman's compensation insurance are both gambling on her day to day health, future health and her self esteem.

Who can help us out? Our attorney says he cannot help. Her pain management doctor's office did whatever they can do. They contacted skilled home health care and home care, wrote the prescription for medical equipment. Can someone show us the way?


@jmc88 - I would say it all really just depends on the situation. If I wasn't sure how to go about it, I'm sure there are places to get free legal advice for how to navigate the system.

I think the restraining order idea is interesting, though. If it got granted but there was some reason you couldn't obey it, would you still have to do your best to follow the rules until you went to the judge, or could you not follow it and not get in trouble assuming the conditions were found to be unsuitable? It seems like that could be an interesting situation.

I was wondering how federal court orders worked, too. Would those mostly be for higher level things like orders for a federal agency to stop doing some practice that might be illegal?


Does anyone here know how to get a court order if there is a situation that needs to be taken care of? Like if you needed someone to start paying child support, would you have to go through the same process of taking someone to civil court, or is it more of just going to the courthouse and filling out some paperwork that the judge signs off on to make it official? In other words, do both sides go in front of a judge to argue their points, or do some things just automatically qualify as court orders?

What about restraining orders, too. I assume those would count as a court order, and both people don't have to be present for those to be issued. I've never been involved with one, but from what I understand, as long as you make a good case for needing one, it gets granted.


@TreeMan - Maybe it just depends on the situation. One of my friends had to go to court one time, but they just wanted to move the hearing date back, so his lawyer went in his place. Part of the bond stipulations to get him out of jail originally was that he couldn't miss the court date, and somehow his lawyer going messed up the system. A couple days later, he got a phone call saying that there was a warrant for him.

He had to explain the situation, and it all got taken care of, but he still got the initial phone call to tell him.

The reason I could see the police not wanting to notify someone is that they might choose to run away somewhere if they know they are wanted. That probably isn't true in most cases, but there are definitely some people who would do it.


I always wondered how you know if you have a warrant for something or another. Is the courthouse legally required to send you a letter or something telling you, or is it just one of those things where you get pulled over in your car sometime, and they tell you you have a warrant for your arrest?

I know of a person who got a speeding ticket in another state and sent the payment through a money order, but it never made it to where it was going, and she didn't know it. A year or so later, she got pulled over again and got arrested for not paying a ticket.

Luckily, she was smart enough to keep the receipt and whatever information was needed, so she had to show that, and got the warrant removed. It seems like there ought to be some way to know ahead of time about those things.

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