Contempt proceedings are quasi-criminal in nature. That means that a person who is found to be in contempt of court may be sentenced to jail time, in addition to being ordered to pay a fine or monetary sanction. In civil contempt matters, the defendant is said to “hold the keys” to his or her jail cell. That means that if the person, who is found to be in contempt, complies with the court order, s/he will be released from jail.
In contrast, in criminal contempt proceedings, a defendant who is found guilty of contempt, is sentence to jail for specified period of time. Once time is served, s/he will be released.
Since the person subject to a civil contempt order “holds the keys” to his or her jail cell, s/he could remain in jail for a longer period of time than a criminal defendant, if s/he refuses to comply with the underlying court order. Since family law matters are civil in nature, parties who refuse to comply with certain court orders may be found to be in civil contempt, and placed in jail until they comply with the underlying court order.
The types of court orders which are punishable by contempt, if violated, include the following:
1) orders to pay child support and child support arrearages (i.e., past due child support payments), 2) orders to pay attorneys fees based on need (for instance, if one party has assets and the other does not, the party with means may be ordered to pay the other party’s attorney’s fees),
3) orders regarding custody and visitation
4) orders to pay spousal support (citee must raise inability to pay as a defense),
5) orders for employers to pay wage assignments,
6) orders to search for jobs and to obtain job training.
7) orders to make equalization payments,
8) orders to convey community property or assets to the other spouse .
In order for a California court to make a finding of contempt, and to convict the person who violated said order , the following findings are required:
1) There is a valid or lawful court order.
2) The citee had knowledge of the order ( if the citee or his or her attorney was present in court when the order was made, this requirement is usually met).
3) The citee did not comply with the court order.