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The act of contempt can be classified as either civil or criminal. Civil contempt is a tool used by the court to compel court room actors to do some task they are obligated to do. Criminal contempt is used by the court to punish offenders for what they have done or said.

Contempt charges can surface from any proceeding but are most commonly seen in emotionally charged proceedings such as divorce cases and child custody matters. The charges can be filed at anyone including the plaintiff and defense lawyers (seldom because the lawyers are aware of the consequences), the parties to the case (defendant, plaintiff), or witnesses that bring in testimonial evidence.

Sentencing for contempt charges range from a fine to incarceration of short duration.

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