What are California’s punishments for family law contempt of court?
What is contempt of court?
Contempt of court often referred to as “contempt”, is the offense of being disobedient to or disrespectful toward a court of law/order and its officers in the form of behavior that opposes or defies the authority, justice, and dignity of the court.
Under family law, what issues are subject to contempt?California may review issues of violations related to child support, child custody, spousal support, property division, equalization payment, and other court orders. These issues may be concerning a dissolution or may be addressed as single issues.
California recognizes some contempt of court issues as quasi-criminal. A quasi-criminal proceeding consists of some criminal qualities combined with civil law jurisdiction. Quasi-criminal permits the family court to punish for actions or omissions as if they were criminal.
What does the court require to prove the other spouse is in contempt of court during a dissolution of marriage?1. The court must have made previous orders concerning the specific issue of the alleged contempt.
2. The accused must have knowledge of the court order prior to the alleged violation. In general, both parties must have received a copy of the order or were both present (or represented by their attorneys) when the court order was made by the judge.
3. The accused must have willfully and knowingly violated the court order.
Here’s an example: Kyle and Bailey are going through a divorce and during the process, Bailey was ordered to pay $7,500 to Kyle for attorney’s fees and costs.
Bailey decides she would rather go to Tahoe for a weekend boating trip with her girlfriends rather than pay Kyle. Here, Bailey has the ability to pay Kyle but willingly avoids the court order by using the money for other purposes.
If Bailey was unable or did not have the ability to pay Kyle, based on the court order, she may have the ability to raise a defense. Her defense may be based on the present ability to comply with the recent court order to pay Kyle’s attorney fee’s and cost. However, this wasn’t the case, she had the ability but willingly did not comply.
The court may take into consideration whether or not a partial payment was made versus complete nonpayment. Where complete nonpayment occurred, the court will look to see if the Bailey is paying other debts i.e., mortgage, vehicle, household expenses, and or non-imperative living expenses.
The choice of prioritizing payments will be important for the court to evaluate if Bailey has the ability to pay these debts. The evaluation will expose Bailey’s choice of priority payments.
What Happens to Bailey?
Contempt of CourtCalifornia Family Law: Failure to pay attorney’s fees and costs:
1. Family Code 2030 & 2032 – One party’s need and the other party’s ability to pay. The need-based fee orders are enforceable by contempt based on the nature of support.
2. Family Code 271 permits sanctions in the form of attorney’s fees and costs when a family law litigant violates a policy.
If Bailey is found in contempt of court, the punishment for contempt in dissolution cases are determined by the following:
California Code of Civil Procedure 1218(c) states each act of contempt, the file shall amount up to $1,000 and or imprisoned for up to five days. When support is an issue, each missed monthly payment is its own act. Additionally, the court has the power to order community service in lieu of or in addition to.
The punishment for contempt of court is mandatory in family law proceedingsFirst offense, the convicted must be ordered to perform community service for up to 120 hours or sentenced to prison for 120 hours (5 days) for each act of contempt.
Second offense, the punishment is 120 hours of community service and sentenced to prison for up to 120 hours, for each act.
Third and further convictions of contempt, sentenced to prison for up to 240 hours (10 days) and ordered to perform up to 240 hours of community service, for each act of contempt.
What do you think? Should the court intervene with Bailey’s noncompliance? Should Bailey be punished for her choice?