Contempt of Family Court in California

Posted in uncategorized on February 5, 2021

During a divorce case in California, it is important to understand every possibility that may arise – including the possibility of you or your spouse being held in contempt of court. Family law contempt of court is a crime committed by willfully ignoring an obligation imposed by law, such as a child support obligation. Being convicted of contempt can have serious consequences in California, including the possibility of jail time.

What Is Considered Contempt of Family Court in California?

There are two different scenarios in which a person can be held in contempt of the family court in California. The first is if a party is disrespectful to a judge or causes a disturbance in a courtroom during a trial. The second is a knowing and intentional failure to obey a court order. The second is the type most discussed within family law. It is a potential outcome if someone willfully ignores a court order after a divorce, such as a child custody, child support or alimony order.

A person will only be in contempt of family court in California if another party files an Order to Show Cause and Affidavit for Contempt. This is a legal document that, when submitted, orders the recipient to appear in court based on the allegation that the person has willfully disobeyed a court order. This document can be used for the breach of a child support, spousal support, restraining order or another type of order made by a judge.

Without filing this document, a party will not be in family law contempt, even if that party has willfully disobeyed a court order. Filing the Order and affidavit is mandatory. Keep in mind that this is a criminal law petition; it has the power to bring criminal charges against the recipient. It also comes with the criminal court’s burden of proof: guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Once the court date arrives for the contempt of court hearing, the prosecutor will have the burden to prove that the recipient willfully disobeyed the order in question. The court orders must be a valid that the defendant knew about, yet knowingly failed to obey. If the prosecutor succeeds, the defendant will be convicted of contempt.

what is contempt of family court in CA

What Are the Penalties of Being Convicted of Contempt in California?

Violating a court order after a dissolution of marriage can come with significant consequences including civil contempt and criminal contempt consequences. Being convicted of contempt in California can come with a fine of up to $1,000 and/or five days in prison for each act of contempt. It is also mandatory for a person convicted of contempt to perform up to 120 hours of community service or to be imprisoned for 120 hours for each count. If this a second contempt conviction, the punishments increase.

What Options Are Available if One Parent Does Not Follow a Family Court Order?

If one parent knowingly does not follow a family court order after a divorce, including refusal to pay child support, that person could face criminal charges. The victimized parent will have the ability to fill out and file an Order to Show Cause and Affidavit for Contempt. A successful criminal case against the party will lead to criminal penalties – something that will motivate the person to obey the order in the future.

In a case involving a parent who refuses to follow a family court order, the victimized parent should try to reach out to the other parent through text or email before taking legal family law contempt action. There may be a misunderstanding. If the parent still refuses to fulfill the terms of the court order, however, the victimized parent can initiate a contempt proceeding.

A contempt proceeding can be a difficult and lengthy process. It is often best to convince the nonpaying parent to adhere to the terms of the court order before bringing the matter to a judge. This may be possible with assistance from a family law attorney, who can contact the nonpaying parent on a client’s behalf and negotiate a solution. If the parent still refuses to pay, the attorney can help with a family law contempt proceeding.