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Child Support

The Looming Threat of Contempt: How Far Can the Court Go in Enforcing Your San Diego Family Law Order?

By November 18, 2009May 25th, 2016No Comments3 min read

If a California family court order is disobeyed, there are many different ways to compel compliance, but can a person be jailed if, for example, child support isn’t paid?  Through the court’s “contempt power,” many family court orders that have been violated can potentially be punished with jail time.  On the other hand, the U.S. and California constitutions protect people from being put in jail just for having unpaid debts.  In the case of spousal support (alimony) or child support, even though money is owed, the payments are not seen as “debts” because they arise from legal obligations created when you have children or get married, which is why jail can be imposed for willfully violating the court order.  Think back to Whitney Houston’s ex-husband Bobby Brown.  Not long ago, a San Diego Union Tribune AP article reported that the R&B singer faced contempt charges for allegedly owing $45,000 in past due child support to his ex-girlfriend, with whom he has two children.  The article also recounts the four days Bobby Brown previously spent behind bars in 2007 for missed child support payments.

If your child or spousal support is past due, you can also garnish wages to collect the support payments and the accrued interest.  The government can also enforce child support orders through methods such as property liens; by refusing to issue or renew a passport; by collecting funds from bank accounts or tax refunds; or by suspending or withholding driver’s, business, professional, and sporting licenses.  For ex-spouses or parents who are unable to pay under the current support order, don’t wait to face contempt charges and have a judge ask why you flatly ignored the order instead of trying to modify the payments.  If you need to change a family court order, act quickly because you may be able to seek modification so that you don’t end up in violation of the order.  Also remember that child and spousal support orders are not the only orders that can be punished by contempt; for instance, others include custody and visitation arrangements and property division orders.

The court’s contempt power is an important tool when a person intentionally violates a court order, but there are often other methods that should be tried first.  We’ll advise you on the appropriate court action to seek compliance, and when needed, assess whether the legal requirements for contempt are met in your case, or help in defending against an unwarranted contempt charge.  Contempt cases must be brought within a certain period of time set by California law (the statute of limitations), which varies depending on the type of order that has been violated.  Take the steps needed to help ensure that you and your family’s interests are protected by contacting Minella Law Group to speak with our family law attorneys at (619) 289-7948.

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