How is Contempt of Court Used in California Divorce Cases?

All courts have an undeniable interest in ensuring that their orders and procedures are respected and followed. This holds true in California’s family courts, as well. Violations of a court’s order to do—or not to do—something, is known as contempt of court. In California divorce cases, contempt of court has special consequences. It may be enforced by the court on its own motion or can be brought to the court’s attention by the parties to an action.

The punishment for contempt of court in a California divorce case is specific. When an individual is found guilty of contempt of court, he or she may be fined up to $1,000, imprisoned for up to 5 days, or both, per charge. If found guilty of contempt, the contemnor may additionally be ordered to pay the reasonable attorney’s fees and costs of the individual who initiated the contempt proceedings.

Some special provisions that apply to contempt of court in divorce proceedings include California Code of Civil Procedure § 1218.5(a), which reads as follows:

If the contempt alleged is for failure to pay child, family, or spousal support, each month for which payment has not been made in full may be alleged as a separate count of contempt and punishment imposed for each count proven.

Thus, pursuant to California law, there can be multiple counts of contempt charged for a repeated failure to pay child or spousal support in the Golden State. The statute of limitations for bringing such proceedings is three years from the date the payment is due. For the enforcement of any other order relating to family law matters, the statute of limitations is two years.

For each count of contempt, the punishment depends upon whether it is for the failure to pay an ordered support or for a violation of a provision of the divorce order. If there is a finding of contempt for failure to comply with a divorce order, the person who is found to be in contempt cannot then enforce the divorce decree against the other party, except as to the child, family, or spousal support.

In the case of contempt for a failure to pay court-ordered support, the punishment depends on whether it is a repeat occurrence. For the first finding of contempt, the court will order the violator to perform 120 hours of community service or spend up to 120 imprisoned. For the second offense, the penalty is community service and imprisonment for 120 hours each. For the third offense, the penalty is 240 hours of community service, 240 hours of imprisonment, and an administrative fee for the administration and supervision of punishment. These penalties, as noted above, can be cumulative, and added for each offence.

Contempt of court in California divorce cases is specific to the type of offense and whether it has occurred previously. If you or someone you know is involved in a divorce proceeding and there is a failure to follow the orders of the court, a contempt order is your next step for addressing this failure. The attorneys at the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger are experienced in contempt issues in family court cases. Call today to see how we can help you: (415) 293-8314.