What is contempt?
Generally, contempt occurs when a party has violated certain court orders. A contempt action is a "quasi-criminal" hearing where a party may be subject to both civil and criminal penalties. Penalties can range from sanctions to five days in jail for each count of contempt.
Contempt occurs when a party has violated certain court orders.
What kinds of orders are subject to contempt?
The types of orders generally subject to contempt include:
- Child and Spousal Support
- Payments on Child and Spousal Support Arrears
- Support Payable to Third Party Creditors
- Job Search Orders
- Custody and Visitation
- Payment of Attorney Fees
- Division of Property Orders
- Restraining Orders
The types of orders generally NOT subject to contempt include:
- Debt Payment Orders
- Equalization Payments
- Orders that are vague and ambiguous (as determined by the court)
What rights do I have if I'm charged with contempt?
- You must be personally served with the Order to Show Cause re: Contempt.
- You may have the right to a jury trial.
- You have a 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination. This means you cannot be compelled to testify against yourself.
- Generally, you have the same constitutional rights as you would if you were facing criminal charges, including the constitutional right to a speedy trial.
- You may have the right to have an attorney appointed for you.
What has to be proven to find me in contempt?
Each element of the claimed contempt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. For example, the party bringing the child and spousal support contempt must proven that each count had an order, the contemnor had knowledge of the order, and he or she still failed to pay. The burden of proof generally shifts to the contemnor to prove that the payment was made or they couldn't pay.
Is there a statute of limitations with respect to contempt?
Yes; just as in civil and criminal law, an Order to Show Cause re Contempt must be filed within a certain period of time after the alleged contempt occurred:
- For child and spousal support, an OSC re Contempt must be filed within three years of the alleged violation.
- For all other orders, an OSC re Contempt must be filed within two years of the alleged violation.
Prosecuting and defending contempt may be very complicated. Seek legal advice soon, and the Dishon & Block team is ready and waiting to answer any questions you may have and suggest courses of action.
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California Divorce Guide