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Civil contempt remedies for violation of family law court orders

On Behalf of | Jun 14, 2022 | Family Law

A party subject to a valid court order who, with knowledge of the order and the ability to comply, fails to comply with the terms of the order is subject to a contempt adjudication and statutory contempt penalties. As an enforcement remedy, exercise of the contempt power enables the court to compel compliance with its valid orders.

Often clients come to me asking many different times how do I enforce the orders that the Judge ordered. I often say call the cops and see what they do.

California traditionally classified contempt proceedings to enforce civil judgments as “quasi-criminal” in nature, giving the obligor-citee some, but not all, of the constitutional rights of a criminally accused

However, for purposes of the citee’s federal constitutional rights (e.g., the proper burden of proof), the crucial inquiry is whether the contempt is “civil” or “criminal” in nature. This issue is not determined by the “label” given the proceedings by the court or by the pleadings, or by whether the district attorney participates in the case. Rather, the answer turns on the penalties imposed on the contemnor … because criminal penalties cannot be imposed on a person who is denied criminal due process protections.

In a “civil contempt,” the punishment is remedial, and for the benefit of the complainant.” In a “criminal contempt,” the sentence is “punitive, to vindicate the authority of the court.” The character of the relief imposed is “thus ascertainable by applying a few straightforward rules.

Civil contempt: On the other hand, a contempt is civil (remedial) in nature if the contemnor is ordered imprisoned only until the contemnor performs an act ordered by the court (“conditional sentence” or “determinate sentence with a purge clause”); or if ordered to pay a “compensatory” fine to the other party; or if ordered to pay a fine to the court unless the contemnor performs an act required by the court’s order.