Civil contempt has the purpose of coercing compliance with an order by the court, or to compensate a party in whose favor the breached order was issued. Civil contempt is typically associated with a civil court proceeding, as opposed to a criminal one. Generally, the civil contempt disappears if and when the individual (or corporation) complies with the judge's order.
Judges may prefer civil contempt because it enables them to avoid a trial by jury for the subject of the order, with the risk that a jury may hold against the judge's order.
As held by the U.S. Supreme Court:
|“||civil sanctions, or those penalties designed to compel future compliance with a court order, are considered to be coercive and avoidable through obedience, and thus may be imposed in an ordinary civil proceeding upon notice and an opportunity to be heard. Neither a jury trial nor proof beyond a reasonable doubt is required.||”|
Int'l Union v. Bagwell, 114 S. Ct. 2552, 2557 (1994).
In September 2015, Kim Davis was held in civil contempt by a federal district court in Kentucky for declining to authorize homosexual marriage licenses.