The court may use the contempt power to enforce an order made in a family law proceeding, unless its use violates the constitutional prohibition on imprisonment for debt. Generally, a person who willfully disobeys any lawful court order that he or she has knowledge of and has the ability to obey is deemed in contempt of court and may be required to perform community service or be punished by a fine or imprisonment, or both. Orders which are enforceable by contempt include failure to pay support, failure to convey community property, and orders for the payment of attorney‣s fees and costs.
Upon filing an Order to Show Cause and Affidavit for Contempt which sets forth the facts of the alleged contempt, the court will issue the Order to Show Cause and will set a hearing date. The first hearing is generally an arraignment where the party charged is advised of their constitutional rights and the matter is set for trial. At the trial both parties may present evidence and argue in support of their positions. The citee has a constitutional right to remain silent and cannot be compelled to testify.
If the contempt is successful, generally, a person who is convicted of contempt may be punished by a fine not exceeding $1,000 per count or by imprisonment not exceeding five days per count, or both. There are additional penalties for a contempt of family law orders which state that the court must order the contemner to perform community service of up to 120 hours, or to be imprisoned for up to 120 hours, for each count of contempt. Additionally, a contemnor who has violated a court order may be ordered to pay attorney’s fees and costs incurred to the party who initiated the contempt proceeding.
Because contempt is such a complex issue, whether you find yourself in a position where contempt may be an option for you to enforce an order, or whether you find yourself the subject of a contempt proceeding it is best to consult an attorney for a more thorough explanation of your options.