If the court in California orders you to do something, you had better do it. The word “contempt” describes a situation in which a party or an attorney involved in a lawsuit refuses to follow an order of the court. You file a motion for contempt to bring the situation to the court's attention. This most often occurs in family law when one party doesn't pay court-ordered family support or refuses to turn over the kids pursuant to a court-approved parenting plan.
What is Contempt of Court?
The judge is the final arbiter of law and procedure in the lower courts, and also weighs and hears the facts if no jury is involved. In a family law matter, the court makes the final ruling on all matters in a divorce, including dividing assets between the parties, awarding family support and setting up a parenting plan. Obviously, the legal system depends on parties and attorneys following a judge's orders.
The contempt system is one way of making sure that this happens. A judge can find a party or an attorney who intentionally refuses to do what the court has ordered in contempt of court. The contempt procedure is criminal in nature, and a court can punish someone found to be in contempt by jail, fine or community service, among other punishments.
Read More: What Does Contempt of Court Mean?
How to File for Contempt?
If the other party to a lawsuit has refused to obey an order of the court, you can file a motion for contempt. You would file a document called "Order to Show Cause and Affidavit for Contempt." If you are filing this in California Family Court, use form FL-410. The top section is informational, providing your name and address and the name and address of the offending party. In the last half, set out the facts on which the order to show cause is based, namely, the facts showing that the person intentionally refused to obey a court order.
In family court matters, you might base your affidavit on failure to pay child support ordered by the court, or failure to hand over the children to you when it was your turn to have them according to the parenting plan. In other cases, it might be failure to answer discovery questions the court ordered should be answered, or failure to turn over certain documents to you that the court ordered to be provided to you. A contempt motion can also be based on a violation of a restraining order.
Once you complete the document, make three copies and take them to the court clerk. The clerk will fill in the hearing date and time and obtain the signature of a judicial officer. The original documents will be filed and the copies returned to you. Pay a process server to have a copy hand-delivered to the other party. Then, show up at the hearing.
To file for contempt in California, you prepare an order to show cause for contempt and an affidavit in support, setting out the facts that show that the other party failed to obey a court order. In Family Law, use form FL-410. File your papers, serve one copy on the other party, then attend the hearing when it is scheduled.
- Consult an attorney if you have any questions about the forms.
Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.