How Sanctions Can Affect Your Custody Case

Flicker, Kerin, Kruger & Bissada LLP

Child custody cases can be emotionally fraught when parents don’t agree on how custody should be divided. Despite having strong opinions and emotions, it is crucial that both parties follow the rules and procedures of the Family Court during a California custody case to avoid sanctions. 

Sanctions are intended to discourage behavior that prevents cases from being resolved effectively and efficiently. Sanctionable behavior may also impact the outcome of a family law case. As such, parties involved in child custody disputes should understand what a sanction is, when it can be issued, and how to avoid being sanctioned by the Court.

What Is a Family Law Sanction?

The California Family Code Section 271 states, “The court may base an award of attorney’s fees and costs on the extent to which the conduct of each party or attorney furthers or frustrates the policy of the law to promote settlement of litigation and, where possible, to reduce the cost of litigation by encouraging cooperation between the parties and attorneys.” This award is as known as a sanction.. 

State law permits sanctions when litigants violate certain policies. Family law sanctions can be issued by family judges if they find that a party has acted obstreperously to prolong or prevent the settlement of a case. These actions include, but are not limited to, behavior that violates court orders.

The goal of a sanction is to encourage all parties to engage in good faith settlement efforts, refrain from unnecessarily increasing the costs of litigation, and to follow court orders. If all parties act in good faith, there is no need for sanctions. However, if they violate court orders and refuse to respond to efforts to meet and confer with the intent to cause or draw out unnecessary litigation, they may be ordered to pay the other party’s attorney fees and costs. Sanctions are meant to deter future conduct that intentionally and unreasonably delays the momentum of the case or violates court orders. 

When May Sanctions Be Issued in Custody Cases?

There are several reasons why judges may sanction parties during child custody cases. Some of the reasons include:

  • Failure to comply with discovery requests: If a custody case involves discovery requests, all parties must comply before the deadlines associated with the discovery. Failing to comply with discovery deadlines may be considered grounds for sanctions.  
  • Refusal to follow parenting plans: If a parenting plan is in place, both parents must abide by it. This includes exchanging the child or children on time and allowing visitation as stated in the plan. Refusing or failing to do so may lead to sanctions in cases where the conduct is repeated and egregious. 
  • Unreasonable demands and refusal to compromise: One party may continually refuse equitable compromises or joint custody without legal grounds for their demands. Appealing reasonable decisions or constantly demanding revisions benefiting one party could be grounds for sanctions.
  • False accusations of abuse: Family law judges take allegations of child abuse very seriously. If it is determined that one party made false abuse allegations to deny the other custody, a judge may decide to order sanctions. 

The above situations are examples of circumstances where a Judge may issue sanctions, but sanctions may also be issued at the discretion of the Judge in other circumstances. 

Impact of Sanctions on Child Custody

Sanctions alone do not impact the outcome of a custody claim, but actions that justify sanctions, such as violating court orders for visitation, may be grounds for altering custody orders during the proceedings. Sanctionable behavior may reflect poorly on a parent’s ability to prioritize the needs of their child. 

For example, false abuse allegations can lead to sanctions against the party who lied, but a judge may believe that a financial sanction alone is insufficient. False abuse claims can be evidence that the lying party is not capable of appropriately sharing joint custody of the child. Therefore, a judge may cite this behavior as grounds for  modifying custodial orders and in serious cases even ordering supervised visitation.

Avoiding Sanctions in Your Family Law Case

Sanctions can lead to financial burdens and may cause the judge to view the sanctioned party negatively, but it is simple to avoid being sanctioned with the right legal advice. Parties are not sanctioned for making claims with merit or for unintentional errors. Simply making a mistake should not lead to penalties. Sanctionable actions are most often done with the intent to delay and complicate litigation or violate an order. Litigants may avoid sanctions by following all court rules and orders and ensuring claims have firm legal grounding. 

In child custody cases, working with an experienced California family law attorney is the best method for avoiding sanctions. A skilled lawyer will ensure their client understands court rules, orders, and procedures in their case, and instruct them accordingly to comply and avoid sanctions. Additionally, an experienced lawyer will review their client’s claims and requests to confirm they have merit before presenting them to the court. 

Consult Expert Child Custody Attorneys in California

The skilled attorneys at Flicker, Kerin, Kruger & Bissada LLP understand the risks of sanctions in California child custody cases. The firm is dedicated to providing clients with expert legal counsel in even the most complex family law cases. This focus on strategy and attention to detail helps prevent avoidable sanctions and encourages the best possible outcome. Schedule a consultation with an experienced attorney in our Menlo Park or San Ramon offices today to learn more about how we can help.

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