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Contempt of Court

Posted on November 20th, 2015

CONTEMPT. Many of us have heard this term before – whether it was in movies or television, or in countless proportions in John Grisham novels. However you may have come across it, it is a word that you never want to heard brought upon you in real life.

Contempt of Court, or more simply referred to as plain “Contempt,” refers to the actions of anybody where those actions interfere with a court proceeding, impede any legal function of a court, cast disrespect on the court, or defy the court’s authority in anyway.

Contempt: Criminal?

There are two kind of contempt: Criminal and civil. Criminal contempt occurs when something happens in the direct realm of the court, which would be directly in front of the judge. This could be any hostile action taken while in the court, yelling, or any way in which a great deal of disrespect was cast. These would bring direct criminal contempt charges on the offending party.

Then there is civil contempt. This applies when the disruptive offense occurs outside the realm of the court, away form the judge. A civil contempt action usually happens when a court order that has been issued by the judge is violated. Like criminal contempt, if found guilty the contemnor can face jail time, fines, or both.

However, the distinction between these two contempt’s and due to all the procedural matters, punishment, and appointment of counsel, is very much a grey area of law. Most courts will define any contempt action, whether civil or criminal, as “Quasi-Criminal.” This term means any legal proceeding that has some, not all of the factors of a criminal proceeding. In a family law case, if contempt is found, the court may punish the offender as it were a criminal case, carrying with it the same penalties. If a contempt proceeding is pending, nothing else in the case can go forward due to the quasi-criminal nature of the contempt charge, and there is now an issue of Fifth Amendment self-incrimination rights. Anything in a family law proceeding could subsequently be used against you in a contempt case.

Consequences of Being Found in Contempt of Court

Family Code section 177.5 and California Code of Civil Procedure section 1218(c) reinforce why you never want your name being in connection with contempt. These two codes govern all things contempt. They state that for each act of contempt, the convicted party, which could be a parent or spouse, can be sentences to community service, fined up to $1500 for each convicted act of contempt, as well as/or imprisonment in county lockup for up to five days. If the offense involves support, either child or spousal, then each monthly payment is a separate act.

For example, if a party did not pay child support for five months, which would equate to five separate acts of contempt. Thus, the guilty party would be on the hook for $7500 and up to 25 days in county jail. In the alternative, the guilty party would be subject to five days worth of community service.

On top of all the above, if found guilty, the court will most likely find the offending spouse liable for the opposing party’s attorney’s fees and costs that were associated with bringing the contempt motion against you because of your actions. This can have a very broad range of fees that would be owed. Failure to pay this will result in more contempt charges, and the vicious cycle will go on and on.

For any further contempt findings against the offending party down the line, the penalties will only get more and more severe. However, like any criminal proceeding, the contemnor must be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.


As such, always behave in a court, always obey the judge, and follow court orders if they are ever issued to you. At the core of contempt charges is the inherent importance of being respectful to the court and in turn, our legal system. At its very heart, above all, our legal system requires respect for our society to function by it, and to effectively carry out all laws.