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Contempt of Family Court in California Explained

In court situations, including family courts in California, being in “contempt” means a person has disobeyed or willfully ignored a standing court order. Contempt charges can stem from a person’s action or inaction under a court order when that wrongful behavior leads to direct material effects on the party the order addresses. Contempt of court charges may occur during family court proceedings or after a final judgment, such as a divorced parent failing to meet child support payments or one parent refusing the other’s court-ordered visitation or shared custody of children.

If you have a case in family court, whether it’s a divorce case, child custody hearing, or a paternity test order, failing to meet legal obligations under a court order can result in being held in contempt of family court in California.

Common Contempt Examples in Family Court

A contempt of family court conviction in California comes with penalties that can be severe, including jail time. The behaviors most commonly associated with contempt charges include the following:

  • Denying a co-parent’s legally authorized child custody or visitation
  • Blocking child visitation as a response to the other parent’s failure to pay child support
  • Not paying court-ordered child support
  • Not making spousal support payments
  • Interfering with a child’s right to communicate with the other parent during their custody time
  • Failing or refusing to return a child to the custodial parent after visitation

In order for a person to be found in contempt of family court the other party must file an order to show cause and an affidavit for contempt. Whether you think you could be subject to a contempt proceeding or you wish to file an order for contempt proceedings for someone willfully ignoring or disobeying a family court order, a family law attorney in Newport Beach, California can help you to navigate this type of proceeding.

Contempt is a criminal charge, meaning it requires the plaintiff to bear the burden of proof showing the person is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Elements Necessary for Proving Contempt

Proving another party in contempt of a family court order requires meeting specific elements of proof including showing the following key points:

  • That a current and valid court order is in effect
  • That the other party knows about the court order in effect
  • That the other party has the ability to comply with the order
  • That the other party was willful in their failure to comply

By proving the above points, it shows beyond reasonable doubt that the other party is in contempt of family court.

What Penalties Come With a Contempt Conviction in California Family Court?

Being found in contempt of a valid court order comes with legal consequences including up to 5 days in jail, 120 hours of community service, and a $1,000 fine. Because the results of a contempt conviction can further impede important points of family court orders like the defendant’s ability to pay child support, it’s almost always a better option to attempt alternatives before filing contempt charges as a last resort. Some alternative actions include:

  • Asking your Irvine family law attorney to draft a demand letter requesting immediate compliance
  • Attempting to resolve the issue through a mediator
  • Pursuing collection actions for unpaid child support or spousal support

Those facing contempt charges have a right to legal representation and a hearing, during which the judge can hear their testimony and their defense can perform a cross-examination of the witnesses against them.