In California, all decisions made by the court in a family law matter must be followed by all the parties involved in the case. From child custody and visitation cases to spousal support, both parties are expected by law to abide by the decision of the court. However, sometimes one of the parties may decide to ignore the court’s decision for one or more reasons.
Since both parties must follow the terms and conditions of the court’s judgment, order enforcement law comes into play when one party refuses. A court order is signed to ensure that parties to a case follow the court’s decision. Its purpose is to enable the court to enforce it, legally, when the need arises. Therefore, if your ex-spouse refuses to abide by any terms of the court, then you have a means to take action.
What Are Court Orders?
A court order refers to a legal document issued by a law court that can do several things including:
- Requiring an individual to perform a specified action such as paying child support
- Prohibiting an individual from performing certain actions such as a restraining order, which prohibits the restrained individual from contacting in any way a protected person
- Setting specific court dates for example when a party is required to make a court appearance or the exchange of children between parents
- Legally establishing something such as a relationship between parties (divorce, marriage, or legal separation)
Order enforcement refers to an order issued by a court forcing an organization or individual to comply with a law or regulation. Enforcement is the primary benefit of signing or issuing a court order. In this case, both parties to the court order know that they potentially face real consequences if they fail to abide by its terms. Different types of court orders carry different consequences. For example, failure to follow the terms stipulated in a child custody order could lead to loss of your custody. On the other hand, failure to pay child support can result in wage garnishment. In family law, more often than not, the punishment meted is meant to punish wrongs more than merely punish individuals. If you believe that the existing court order in your case is not fair, you may have legal options to have it modified. Until you do so, however, you are required by law to follow all the order’s terms.
Types of Family Court Orders in California
A Californian family court can issue several kinds of court orders. Each court order serves a different purpose, has a different enforcement process, and different consequences if you fail to abide by its terms. Discussed below are four types of family court orders:
- Child Custody and Visitation
Child custody or visitation order is made in a situation where you and your ex-spouse cannot agree on where your child should live or how to raise them. Therefore, the child custody and visitation order does just that; it stipulates where your child will live and who will be responsible for making significant decisions regarding their life. Often, a child visitation order is included when the court determines that your child should either live with you or your ex-spouse. This order puts your child’s best interest first. If you find your child visitation or custody order no longer serves your child’s best interest, you or your ex-spouse can legally have it modified. If you or your spouse fails to abide by the terms stipulated in the order as it is, the other party can go to court to have it enforced.
If you believe that your child was kidnapped, immediately collect a contact information list for your ex-spouse, or the other parent, that includes all the people you think they may contact. Also, get a recent photo, make a clear physical description, and gather any additional relevant information about your child as well as the other parent or your ex-spouse. If you know or find where your child is, but have no access to them, contact a San Diego family law attorney, the police, or any other relevant authority for help. Never stop paying for child support, never attempt to see or visit your child at a time you are not allowed to, and always be available for all your scheduled child visitation times.
- Restraining or Protective Orders
Restraining or protective orders are issued to protect one party (the victim) from the other (the violator). When you take a restraining order against someone, the restrained party is required by law to stay away from you, your home, or workplace. It may, further, include child visitation or custody orders, and may prevent or require the other party to obey other options. In San Diego, California, protective orders are often sought in domestic violence cases. These orders may either be enforced for up to three years or permanently enforced if need be. The court can order law enforcement to protect you, your immediate family members living with you, or even family members living reasonably close to you.
Often, a violated restraining order means that the protected party faces extreme danger; thus, these orders must be enforced strictly. If the defendant refuses to follow the restraining order, report them to the police immediately. The restrained individual may then be arrested and later charged with a contempt of court, a misdemeanor, or a felony. It is also prudent to let your immediate neighbors, family, and the local San Diego police know about your restraining order.
- Child Support Orders
Child support orders are made to ensure that both you and your ex-spouse support your child financially. A wage garnishment is also included in a child support order. You can agree with your ex-spouse to stay the wage garnishment but note that it can be reinstated later. If you or your spouse can pay child support from your earnings but fail to do so, you may be found in contempt of court and face serious consequences that may involve jail time. Moreover, such failure can negatively affect your credit score or lead to placement of liens on your property. If your financial circumstances change and you are unable to pay child support, rather than stopping your payments, it is advisable to apply to have it modified in court.
To collect owed child support or enforce the order, you should go to a San Diego child support agency with your copy of the child support order. The agency may follow up with your ex-spouse’s employer for wage garnishment. Usually, a criminal charge filed for contempt of court is the last resort when all other child support enforcement options have failed. A family law attorney comes in handy in such situations. Child support orders can also be enforced across state lines. When you involve the California Department of Child Support Services during order enforcement, one of its local agencies in San Diego will report any missed payments to credit reporting bureaus. Further, owed child support payments exceeding $2,500 may result in the denial of a passport renewal or issuance by the US Department of State until all arrears are paid.
Moreover, unemployment benefits, tax refunds, worker’s compensation payments, and disability insurance payments can be intercepted or garnished to satisfy unpaid child support. The Franchise Tax Board of California can seize bank accounts, personal property, or vacant land to satisfy overdue child support payments. The child support agency can, further, request the suspension of driver licenses or any other professional license.
- Partner or Spousal Support Orders
Partner or spousal support orders may be issued during a legal separation or divorce proceedings to ensure that you both maintain a similar or comparable standard of living after your legal separation or divorce to what you enjoyed during your union. When your partner refuses or fails to pay you spousal support on time, in full, or at all, you can enforce the order. Similar to child support orders, the violation of partner or spousal support orders may result in wage garnishment.
What Property is Exempt from Enforcement of Money Judgements?
Under Californian law, not all property is subject to enforcement of money judgments. These exemptions are stipulated in the California Code of Civil Procedure under Title 9 and include judgments for family, spousal, or child support. However, the court has discretion in decision making concerning whether to uphold the exemption or dip into the exempt property to satisfy the money judgment.
The exemptions listed under Title 9 only apply to natural persons. They are also elective; ergo, when you (the debtor) elect one group of exemptions, you forego all the others. This means that the available options are often mutually exclusive. The dollar limits on exemptions from order enforcement are adjusted every three years by the Judicial Council of California. Such changes are based on the present consumer price index as at the date of adjustment. The legislature can also increase limits on exemptions through a vote. Consult an attorney to understand the exemptions available to you better.
What Does Contempt of Court Mean?
Though it is not a commonly used order enforcement method in California, holding someone in contempt of court is a valid option that you can take when they violate court orders. You need the following to prove contempt of court:
- Show the existence of a court order signed by a judge
- Prove that all parties concerned were not only aware of the existence of the court order but also understood its terms
- Show that the other party violated the court order willfully
Once you are accused of contempt of court, the process becomes a criminal one and may lead to jail time and fines. Orders punishable through contempt of court proceedings include:
- The failure to follow spousal or partner support order terms
- The failure or refusal to pay lawyer’s fees
- Failure to follow orders that require you to find work to pay child, spousal, or partner support
- The failure to adhere to a wage garnishment on your employee’s wages
- The violation of a protective or restraining order
- The failure to follow terms stipulated in a property division order
- Violation of child visitation or custody orders
Why You Need a San Diego Family Law Attorney
For the litigation cycle in family law to be complete, the court should have powers to guarantee compliance by all parties involved with its judgments and orders. In practice, litigants reasonably and promptly comply with court rulings against them. Sometimes, however, you may need to hire an attorney to ensure order enforcement when the other party refuses to abide by the court’s ruling. At San Diego Family Law Attorney, our legal team is always committed to assisting all our clients in San Diego and throughout California traverse the legal complexities of family law and order enforcement to achieve the result they deserve. Time is of much importance in this process and delays could cause serious damage to your case.
We understand that order enforcement can be a hard and complicated issue if not handled properly. After going through a complicated or lengthy legal process, the last thing you want to do is be back in court to enforce an order against your ex-spouse. Such situations call for customized and creative approaches to ensure a quick solution. Our San Diego family attorneys concentrate on understanding and appreciating your situation and family goals to formulate appropriate options for achieving them. Order enforcement procedures can be emotionally stressful and unsettling. That is why we remain committed to high standards of ethical and moral conduct, while efficiently and vigorously representing your best interests. Whether you are looking to enforce a court order, or find yourself on the receiving end, you need legal counsel.
The lawyers at San Diego Family Law Attorney are skilled in negotiation and trial cases. They remain dedicated to protecting your rights and interests during the mediation process or in a courtroom. If you need legal advice or assistance with order enforcement or any other family law issue in San Diego call our hotline at 619-610-7425 to book your appointment, get a consultation, or talk to one of our knowledgeable attorneys.