California Court Discusses Grounds for Sanction in Custody Actions

The California courts generally find that it is in a child’s best interest to maintain a relationship with both parents. As such, if one parent attempts to obstruct the other parent’s right to custody or visitation in opposition to applicable court orders, it can have serious consequences. As illustrated in a recent California ruling issued in a custody case, if a court finds that a parent unreasonably interferes with their co-parent’s custody rights, they may go so far as to reduce their custody rights and impose sanctions on them. If you have questions about what measures you can take to protect your custody or visitation rights, it is wise to meet with a Bay Area child custody attorney promptly.

Facts of the Case and Procedural History

Allegedly, the father filed a paternity and custody action in Ohio, while two months later, the mother filed a custody petition in California. Both parents sought to dismiss the Ohio case and transfer jurisdiction to California. The California court temporarily stayed the case pending the Ohio court’s jurisdiction decision. The Ohio court then determined California was the child’s home state, allowing the father to withdraw the Ohio case voluntarily. The mother subsequently attempted to dismiss her California petition, but the court declined her request, and she filed a request for dismissal a few days later.

It is reported that the California court lifted the stay, asserting California’s jurisdiction. The court also denied the mother’s dismissal request due to the prior stay and lack of specificity, granted supervised visitation to the father, and referred the case to mediation. The mother filed multiple petitions in the California Court of Appeals, but they were unsuccessful. The court then imposed sanctions totaling approximately $50,000 on the mother due to her repeated non-compliance, specifically her refusal to hand over the child so that the father could exercise his visitation rights, and attempts to dismiss the case. The Yuba court found she had the financial means to pay the sanctions. The mother appealed.

Sanctions in Child Custody Disputes

On appeal, the mother argued, among other things, that the trial court lacked the authority to issue sanctions against her as the case was dismissed. The court rejected this assertion and affirmed the trial court ruling. In doing so, the court explained that California Family Code section 271 authorizes the award of attorney fees and costs as a sanction for uncooperative conduct that hinders settlement and increases litigation costs. It further noted that it reviewed sanctions for abuse of discretion and factual findings for substantial evidence.

In the subject case, the court stated that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in ordering sanctions orders because the mother had repeatedly failed to comply with court orders and had disconnected from hearings. The court found that she had the financial ability to pay the sanctions based on her employment history, assets, and trust beneficiary status. As such, the court affirmed the trial court ruling.

Talk to a Seasoned California Child Custody Attorney

The California courts make child custody determinations based on what they believe is in the best interest of the child. As such, parties subject to custody orders must abide by the terms of the order regardless of whether they agree with them; otherwise, they may face sanctions. If you need assistance with a custody dispute, it is in your best interest to talk to an attorney about your rights. The seasoned California child custody attorneys of Bay Area Family Law Center can inform you of your options and help you to seek the best legal outcome possible. You can contact us through our online form or by calling us at 925-258-2020 to set up a meeting.

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