In a California family case, a contempt of court order can be a powerful enforcement tool. It’s available to either spouse when the other refuses to comply with a court order.
Below, we discuss the punishment for contempt of court in family court, as well as what court orders can and can’t be enforceable by a contempt of court order.
Proving Contempt of Court in Family Court
Before you can file an Order to Show Cause (OSC) and Affidavit for Contempt, you must be sure that you can prove your ex spouse’s contempt of court actions. This criminal burden of proof is important because a petition for contempt of court is criminal in nature. It also carries the right to trial by jury.
The petitioning spouse must prove the following to hold the accused spouse in contempt:
- There needs to be a valid and clear court order. A vague court order that is neither clear nor specific makes it hard to enforce contempt proceedings.
- The accused spouse must possess knowledge of the court order. Most often, the accused spouse more than likely either received a personal copy of the court order or was present in court on the day the order was made. However, there are rare instances where the accused did not receive a copy of the order and was not present in court. Those situations are more complex because the accused can claim ignorance to certain facts in the order.
- The accused spouse must have intentionally violated the court order. For instance, if ordered to pay family support or attorneys fees, the paying spouse may claim an inability to comply with the order at the present time. However, in reality that same spouse really does possess the means to pay their ordered support payments. In that situation, the accused spouse willfully violated the court order.
Types of Court Orders Enforceable by Contempt of Court in Family Law Cases
The following court orders are enforceable by contempt of court orders:
- Child and Spousal Support Orders. If a spouse is ordered to pay child or spousal support but fails to follow through with the payments, then they can be held in contempt of court. That includes temporary and final child and spousal support orders. You may begin contempt proceedings even if a part of the support is paid or late.
- Orders to Pay Attorney’s Fees. In family law cases, attorneys fees break up into two categories — Family Code 2030 and 2032, and Family Code 271. The first set of codes are need-based orders and are enforceable by contempt of court. However, the latter code is not so clear cut.
- Order to Seek Work. When the court orders a spouse to seek employment, that is not a suggestion. It is a clear a directive. Intentionally failing to follow through with that order is punishable by contempt.
- Restraining Orders. Any intentional violation of a restraining order is a punishable contempt offense.
- Visitation and Child Custody Orders. These orders the most violated orders in many contempt proceedings. All too often one parent either intentionally hinders the other parent’s visitation rights or fails to adhere to the parenting schedule.
Understanding the Laws That Dictate Punishment for Contempt of Court in Family Court
In order to understand punishment for contempt of court in family court, you must first understand sentencing laws.
California Code of Civil Procedure 1218(c) states that every act of contempt will result in up to $1000 in fines and or up to five days of imprisonment. So, for example, failure to pay multiple months worth of support payments can add up quickly. In addition, the court can also order community service.
The punishment for contempt of court in family court is mandatory. With every convicted offense of contempt, the punishment only grows larger and larger by the code stated above. The court will take the convicted spouse’s employment schedule into account when ordering any punishment.