How to Handle Contempt Proceedings in California Family Court.

Understanding Contempt Proceedings in California Family Court

Contempt proceedings in California family courts are serious matters that often arise when a party does not comply with court orders. These orders can range from payment of child or spousal support to visitation schedules or any other mandates issued by the court. Understanding how to navigate these proceedings is vital for both the accused and the accuser.

What Constitutes Contempt?

In family law, contempt is an act of disobedience or disrespect towards the court. A person can be held in contempt for actions like failing to pay child support, not adhering to custody arrangements, or not transferring property as ordered. Such violations must be willful and within the individual's control to be considered contempt.

Initiating Contempt Proceedings

The process begins with the filing of a contempt action by the aggrieved party. This is done through a formal document called an 'Order to Show Cause and Affidavit for Contempt,' which details the alleged violations of the court order. The accused party will then be served and given a chance to appear in court to respond.

Legal Representation

Given the potential consequences, including fines and jail time, having legal representation is advisable. An attorney can help navigate the complexities of family law, prepare necessary documentation, and build a defense if you are facing contempt charges.

The Court Hearing

During the hearing, both parties will have the opportunity to present their cases. Evidence such as financial records or communication logs might be crucial in proving whether a violation has occurred. The burden is on the accuser to prove contempt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Possible Outcomes

If found in contempt, penalties can include jail time, fines, community service, or orders to make up missed visitation times. In some instances, particularly in child support matters, courts may allow a purge condition where the accused can avoid further penalties by paying a portion of what's owed.

Historical Reference

An example of contempt proceedings can be seen in historical cases like In re McCarty (1981), where failure to comply with court orders led to significant legal consequences for the violating party.


Handling contempt proceedings requires an understanding of legal obligations and rights. Whether you're initiating a contempt action or defending against one, it's essential to prepare thoroughly and consider seeking legal advice.