Contempt of Court Family Law California 2024 – All You Need to Know

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June 10, 2023

When a co-parent in California doesn’t obey a family court order, they are in contempt of court, and there are consequences. Whether the order they are disregarding has to do with child support payments, visitation agreements, or any of the family court orders that constitute contempt of court, there are laws in place to enforce these orders.

When you’re dealing with your child’s other parent, and they are not following court orders, the foremost option you have is to seek legal counsel from an established and experienced California family law attorney. Retaining a family law attorney who is well-versed in California family law and has knowledge of family court inside and out is ideal in situations where one parent or spouse is not obliging court orders.

California Family Court Orders Enforceable by Contempt

Anyone who willfully refuses to abide by the terms of the following family court orders is subject to penalties. 

  • Child Custody Orders and Visitation Orders
  • Child Support Orders and Spousal Support Orders
  • Protective Orders and Restraining Orders
  • Property Division
  • Declaration of Disclosure Orders
  • Marital Settlement Agreement Obligations
  • Liability for Marital Debt
  • Order to Seek Employment
  • Attorney Fees and Costs

Support violations carry a three-year statute of limitations in that any action brought forth alleging violations of support orders must be made within three years after the first missed payment. All other contempt action carries a two-year statute of limitations, meaning any legal action of contempt must be taken within two years of the date that the alleged contempt took place.

Potential Penalties

If a California family court finds that a party did act in contempt, they are subject to penalties. Penalties for contempt of family court include imprisonment, community service, fines, and/or payment of the outstanding debt for financial obligations.

California civil code dictates that sentencing must result in fines of up to $1,000 per act of contempt and/or as many as five days in jail. In a case such as child support or spousal support order violations, after months of failure to pay, fines and jail time can add up. Punishment for contempt of court is mandatory, and with each convicted contempt offense, penalties increase under the civil code cited above.

Proving Contempt of California Family Court

To accuse another individual of being in contempt of family court in California, the accusing party must file an Order to Show Cause and Affidavit for Contempt form. This form is mandatory to file allegations of contempt of court. If you are seeking support payments from an individual who is in contempt of support payment court orders, you must file this form to initiate the retrieval of support payments owed to you.

Before filing an Order to Show Cause and Affidavit for Contempt form, you must make certain that you can prove that the act of contempt of court occurred. This is a criminal burden of proof and is important for a petition of contempt because it is a criminal act to defy family court orders. You must submit your proof via an Affidavit of Facts Constituting Contempt and an Income and Expense Declaration. You have a right to a trial by jury to prove contempt of court, but in order for the other party to be penalized for contempt of court, as the petitioning party, you must be able to prove with evidence the following notions:

  • There is a valid and clear court order.
  • The spouse accused of contempt possesses knowledge of the court order.
  • The spouse accused of contempt intentionally violated the court order.

Proving contempt of family court takes focus and time to be detail oriented in regard to filling out and submitting paperwork. A qualified family law attorney is an ideal resource to call upon to help you navigate through the red tape and court proceedings that are involved in petitioning and proving contempt of family court.

FAQs About Contempt of Court Family Law California

What Is the Punishment for Contempt of Court in Family Court in California?

When someone is found guilty of being in contempt of court in California family court, legal consequences include as many as 120 hours of community service, up to five days in jail, and up to $1,000 fine per act of contempt, as well as repayment of back due support payments, if applicable. Violations of family court are criminal acts in some cases.

What Happens if One Parent Does Not Follow a Family Court Order in California?

When one parent does not follow a California family court order, the court will order the parent in non-compliance to follow court orders or face the consequences of criminal or civil penalties. An investigation into the allegations of contempt will also ensue to determine the severity and validity of the non-compliance acts in question. Wage garnishment or asset seizure proceedings may also ensue.

What Are the Elements of Contempt of Court in California?

The elements of contempt of family court in California that are necessary to prove contempt of court occurred include the establishment that there was a valid court order to violate, the accused party had knowledge of that court order, and they willingly, willfully, and intentionally violated that court order.

What Is the Statute of Limitations for Family Law Contempt in California?

If a violation of family court is not related to support payments, the statute of limitations is two years, meaning the accuser has two years from the date of the contempt action to file a petition of alleged contempt. If the allegations are spousal or child support-related, the statute of limitations is three years from the date of the first missed support payment.

Calling on a Trustworthy Family Law Attorney

Law Offices of Hollie A. Lemkin, APC, is a family law firm with more than 20 years of experience representing families in Orange County. Our legal team cares about our clients and their families, especially their children. We are sensitive to the difficulties families go through but can be tenacious when necessary. When Orange County families need a steadfast family law attorney in their corner, call us today.

Call today to speak with Hollie A. Lemkin to discuss your questions & issues!


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