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Contempt of Court in Family Law

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We get calls every day from frustrated people asking for help because someone isn’t paying support, is ignoring custody orders, or is otherwise misbehaving. At some point they ask about pursuing contempt charges. Family Law judges tend to handle contempt a little differently because they are criminal proceedings. As a result, their costly pursuit often fails to produce the desired outcome. Here’s why:

Finding someone guilty of contempt requires the following:

1. There must be a valid court order. Without a valid court order, there is no contempt. Someone ignoring a “parenting plan” or refusing to pay “mutually agreed upon expenses” is not guilty of contempt.

2. There must be knowledge of the order since “contempt” is defined as the willful disobedience of an order. Willfulness is an essential element that can be defended by claims of ignorance, inability to comply, or simply “vague and confusing” orders.

3. Proper notice of the contempt proceedings must be provided. Because it’s a criminal matter, this requires personal service of the court papers.

4. In a case involving a failure to pay support, the burden of proof shifts to the payor. So, the payor must prove that they cannot pay, not the other way around. Assuming the other factors have been met, they will be held in contempt if they cannot prove an inability to pay.

Here’s where things can get tricky — Family Law judges don’t like putting people in jail. A more likely outcome would be new orders which reflect the misbehavior of the individual charged, like new custody orders mirroring their conduct or a stern lecture urging them to change their behavior, stating “Next time I won’t be so lenient.”

If the Court does find contempt, every convicted contemnor is allowed up to 15 days to prepare and argue on the nature of sentencing. In their sentencing memo, counsel can request that the contemnor be sentenced to probation, a $1,000 fine, and up to five days in county jail. More serious consequences require a jury trial, which would be highly unusual in Family Court.

Sentencing will be delayed by these rules, requiring a second court appearance, or third appearance if at the first appearance the alleged contemnor asked for a continuance to allow them time to hire a lawyer. In the end, the likelihood of time in jail is remote; jail is too crowded. Sound expensive? It is. $10,000 in legal fees for a lecture and a wrist slap.

In our practice we find that persuasive letters and skillful negotiation are usually sufficient to resolve these problems without resorting to costly litigation, but when necessary, we zealously fight for our clients.

Remember, our Free Divorce Workshop is Saturday, April 13, from 10AM to 12PM at our Woodland Hills office. Space is limited so call (818)348-6700 to RSVP.

Best Wishes,

Ty Supancic, Esq.

The Law Collaborative Los Angeles 
Woodland Hills Divorce Attorneys 
T: 818-348-6700                 
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Khloe and Lamar: Dangerous Oversight

 15-10-30 Lamar & Khloe Header

Thankfully, Lamar Odom appears to be making a complete recovery after being found unconscious at Love Ranch outside of Pahrump, Nevada. But for a time his condition was precarious and the outlook for recovery grim. Although Odom and Khloe Kardashian had filed for divorce in 2013, they had not finalized the matter and are still legally married. Furthermore, it appears that Odom had not executed a new Healthcare Power of Attorney which meant that doctors had to look to Kardashian for direction regarding his medical treatment.

If they thought about it, my guess is that most people would not want their soon-to-be-ex making life and death decisions about their medical treatment. But most people don’t think about it.

I meet with people all the time who are in the midst of a divorce that’s spiraling out of control. They’ve spent thousands of dollars fighting in court and are desperately looking for a way to stop the bleeding, so they come to our office for help. Mediation and Collaborative Law offer a solution to the insanity of court costs and legal fees.

When I meet with these people, one of the questions I ask is, “Who holds your Healthcare Power of Attorney?” This question is often met with a blank stare.

“What do you mean?”

I repeat my question a different way: “If you were in the hospital and could not speak for yourself, who would the doctor turn to for guidance?”

“My parents?” is a common response.

“Great,” I respond, “so you’ve got a signed Healthcare Power of Attorney naming your parents?”

“No,” is the usual answer.

“Well in that case, your soon-to-be-ex has that power. And if you don’t have an interim Estate Plan, they’ll also inherit your share of the property. Is that okay with you?”

Healthcare Powers of Attorney are an important part of any complete Estate Plan, but Estate Plans need to be kept current, and during a divorce, interim planning is critical. But just as people put off Estate Planning, they put off interim planning as well.

If your Estate Plan is out-of-date, update it now. If you don’t have an Estate Plan, get one right away, but don’t do it “on the cheap.” I recently got a sad call from the long-time companion of an elderly gentleman who’d passed. He’d used an online “trust mill” to draft an Estate Plan. His intentions were that his companion could stay in the house for the rest of her life and after she passed, everything would go to his kids. By saving money on a cheap plan, he inadvertently bypassed her and she got nothing.

For Lamar Odom, things seem to have worked out okay. Others are not that lucky. If you’re going through a divorce, talk to your attorney about interim Estate Planning. If you’re going through the “divorce from hell” talk to a Mediator or Collaborative Attorney about putting an end to the madness.

Thanks for reading,

Ty Supancic
T: 818-348-6700
F: 818-348-6700

New Ideas For Old Holiday Traditions



Like a devastating fire, divorce is usually tragic. But good can rise from the ashes. I am not a child of divorce; my parents have been married for over 50 years. But growing up, my family had two Christmas traditions: We celebrated Christmas Eve with my mother’s family because that’s what they “always” did, and we celebrated Christmas Day with my father’s family, as he had growing up. The compromise worked out to benefit all.

I cherish my Christmas traditions, but the truth is they were made up. They only became traditions because we repeated them.

When child custody comes up in my work with divorcing couples, this is one of my first questions: Do the parents have new family traditions they can adopt for their children going forward? Alternate custody is often the court’s solution, and seems to create a “loser” out of one parent each year. Since the couple is permanently reorganizing their family, I propose that divorcing parents consider starting new traditions. This idea can make the holidays even more joyful.

Hanukkah has eight nights. Parents might choose to alternate their evening celebrations. If Christmas is celebrated, rather than yearly alternating holidays, couples have the opportunity to create a new tradition: The children can look forward to spending every Christmas Eve with one parent’s family and every Christmas Day with the other parent’s family. This eliminates the holiday “loser.”

These new traditions will be cherished by the children if the parents embrace them. Perhaps they’ll have to flip a coin to see who gets what, but once they start observing the new tradition, the children will never experience a year where they wish they were with the other parent during a particular holiday.

Happy Holidays,
Ty Supancic and all of us at The Law Collaborative
The Law Collaborative, APC

The Raging Bull of Van Nuys


I had an interesting nickname for the first 20 years of my law practice, and I’ll occasionally meet an attorney who may reference my original, aggressive style of litigation. The following should bring some clarity:

Years ago, I appeared on an initial Request for Orders in the Van Nuys Superior Court. A typical Request for Orders involves custody, visitation, interim child and spousal support, attorneys fees, and temporary restraining orders.

The attorney on behalf of the responding party was from Orange County, and introduced himself to me. He was cordial and polite. I invited him to go to the cafeteria to talk about an interim settlement. He agreed, and we asked the court to put the matter on second call. We went to the cafeteria, and, with the help of our clients, settled the entire case. We then returned to the Northwest Department to declare that we had completed the matter: in those few hours in the cafeteria we had worked out a Co-Parenting Plan, an equitable division of assets and liabilities, and permanent support orders to complete the case.

As we waited for the court to take the bench to hear the stipulation, the attorney remarked that he was very surprised. I asked why. He told me, “I’ve never appeared in Van Nuys before. I wanted to get a line on you and your reputation, so I called a friend of mine from law school. He told me you were called ‘the Raging Bull of Van Nuys.’ Imagine my surprise when you extended your hand and invited me to the cafeteria; even more so when we proceeded to settle the entire case.” I responded, “You’re reasonable, intelligent, and you didn’t demand anything to which your client was not entitled. You made a case for your client, and it was reasonable and fair. That’s the best we can ever hope for our clients.”

I’ve thought many times since about that dubious reputation for being a “Raging Bull.” I had certainly never intended to be a raging bull, but I was passionate, and vigorous in my advocacy on behalf of my client. I practiced “take no prisoners” litigation for the first 25 years of my career because, at the time, that’s what law schools taught. However, I was always aware of the damage and destruction caused by the traditional litigation approach, to the families, the clients, and especially their children. I was a child of divorce, so am very aware of the pain that children feel.

I served on the Executive Committee for the San Fernando Bar Association Family Law Committee. The cases in Superior Court were backlogged for up to two years at the time, so we put together a volunteer attorney pro tem program, in order to give relief to the courts. We planned to do small claims appeals, default judgments, and much of the administrative work that prevents judges from hearing trials in a timely manner.

Our committee approached the supervising judge in 1976, the Honorable Charlie Hughes, who listened patiently to our pitch for a volunteer attorney pro tem program. His response: “No. But I’ll tell you what we do need. We need you to create a volunteer mediation project.” Our reaction? “What’s mediation?” It was the first time any of us had heard the word used. (At that time I’d been practicing law for six years.) He explained the process, and we, in turn, created the project. Mediation proved to be so successful in that community that our program was copied in Santa Monica, where it proved equally successful. The supervising judge in the Central Department got wind of the success in Van Nuys and Santa Monica, and wanted to know more. Thus the program was extended to Central, and then to all of the 14 branch courts in L.A. County. That Volunteer Attorney Mediator Program is still in existence today.

I liked what I learned about mediation, because consensual, cooperative problem solving is a kinder, gentler way to solve disputes like divorce. I originally trained as a mediator in 1981, at a California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists conference in San Diego. In 1997, while attending an International Alliance for Holistic Lawyers conference in Santa Fe, I had the opportunity to meet lawyer Stu Webb. He told me about the work that he was doing in Minneapolis through the foundation of the Institute for Collaborative Law. I brought the message of Collaborative Law back to Los Angeles County and I, as well as my clients, have been reaping the benefits of consensual dispute resolution ever since.

Subsequently, I’ve attended many Advanced Professional Skills Programs, such as those held by the Pepperdine University Law School, Strauss Institute for Dispute Resolution, as well as spending several summers training with the Harvard Insight Initiative Project. I believe that Mediation education will never be complete – there are always new skills to learn.

I respect and trust the collaborative approach, cooperative problem solving, and alternative dispute resolution, consensual dispute resolution, interest based bargaining, principal negotiation, and teaching lawyers all of the skills that have been developed through the Harvard Programs of Negotiation:

“Getting to Yes,” “Getting Past No,” and “Difficult Conversations.”

At The Law Collaborative, APC, we approach every case by first reaching out to adverse counsel, to invite him or her to sit down to talk solutions. Sadly, and too often, some lawyers are so caught up in their own personal agendas, that they use their client’s case to attempt to solve their own emotional strife. On those occasions, I may have to let the Bull out of his pen. We can still do it the hard way, but only when it’s in the clients’ best interests.

Thank you for reading,
Ron Supancic, CFLS
The Law Collaborative, APC
T: (818)348-6700
F: (818)348-0961

The Impact of Collaborative Law

I’m honored to be featured as the lead author in this great series published by Thomson Reuters Westlaw. If you want to learn about the early history and beginnings of Collaborative Practice, this is a must read! My gratitude goes out to Isabel Kunkle for her foresight and vision in putting together this important compendium.

I understand that this is controversial; I’d love your feedback.



Experts estimate that American civilians possess at least 310 million firearms. In 2010, U.S. companies manufactured 5,459,240 new firearms compared to only 2,966,133 automobiles. The Economist recently declared, “It’s too late. Gun control in America is as quaint a proposition as prohibition.” Meanwhile, lawmakers are considering laws that will criminalize the passive act of having Grandpa’s old rifle in the closet, even if it doesn’t function.

Whether you support gun control laws or believe the only form of gun control should be the use of both hands, guns are here for the long haul and so are the legal traps they represent. If you’re a gun owner, or acquainted with one, you need to continue reading.

Unless you’ve purchased a firearm recently, you might be surprised by how many confusing and often conflicting laws control the transfer and ownership of firearms in California – and the laws aren’t any clearer for heirs. Putting firearms in a will or trust exposes heirs to accidental felonies and possible state and federal criminal charges.

If someone borrows your key ring, and one key opens Grandpa’s gun cabinet, both parties may be instantly guilty of several felonies.

If Mom gives Grandpa’s old broken rifle to Jimmy, and Jimmy has a prescription for medical marijuana — Mom and Jimmy may both go to jail.

During your life, a properly written Gun Trust will protect you, your family, and your collection should laws change, or should you or a family member lose the right to possess firearms.

When the gun owner is no longer around to provide guidance, a Gun Trust will help protect heirs by providing instructions for proper conveyance to prevent illegal transfers which might occur with a regular will or trust. A Gun Trust can also provide a means to support the continued use and maintenance of the firearms or instructions to maximize their sale potential.

If you want to pass on 2nd Amendment values to your heirs, we can prepare a Family Armory Trust which will provide firearm safety and marksmanship training, incentives to support the 2nd Amendment, and preservation of multi-generational heirloom collections.

Whether you own one gun or several, whether you own guns as an investment, or for self defense – you have a responsibility to ensure that those firearms are handled properly, now and in the future. You will leave a legacy – Make certain it isn’t a legacy of prison time.

How do you feel about gun control?  What do you think about the 2nd Amendment? I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions on this controversial subject. Leave a comment on our Facebook page (, tweet us @TLC_Law, or reply to this email.

Call us now to discuss protecting your heirs and your guns today, before it’s too late.

Ty Supancic, Esq.
The Law Collaborative, APC
Woodland Hills, CA 91367
T: (818)348-6700
F: (818)348-0961


Courts in Crisis
Due to more and more cuts in spending, the state of our court system continues to deteriorate. This had lead to extended periods of waiting for legal matters to be solved, and to outright crisis within any litigated case. This is reason enough for divorcing couples to come to agreement outside of court. Here is a help list for those parties who understand that cooperation mean reaching acceptable solutions in a more time-efficient and cost-effective manner.

Help List for Separated or Divorcing Couples:

1. View your “ex” as a problem-solving partner. Consider that person as someone who can constructively participate in solving the issues created by your separation. This is the reason that person will be referred to as your “partner” in this list.

2. Be constructive. Being effective and constructive means remaining focused on achieving goals that are consistent with your interests and principles, and acting in ways that you believe can lead to a solution.

3. Take responsibility for your feelings and do not allow them to dictate your actions. Feelings are appropriately explored in therapy, not in negotiations. Focus your attention on what will help you in the future.

4. Avoid using inflammatory language and gestures.

5. Speak for yourself, not for your partner. When speaking about your partner, try not to describe his/her feelings or motivations. Focus on your own feelings. Use “I” statements; avoid “you” statements.

6. Remember that the collaborative process is completely voluntary.
Knowledge of your entitlement to stop at any time gives you the freedom to consider options without feeling coerced.

7. Be creative. Attempt to think “outside of the box.” Be willing to consider as many options as possible for meeting your interests as well as your partner’s.

8. Respect the fact that the big changes taking place in your relationship will present different challenges for you and your partner. Sometimes one of you will have already fully accepted the idea of the relationship ending, while the other is just starting to adjust to that reality. Respect differences and do not take them personally. Consider the possibility that each of you is doing the best that you can.

9. Consider conflict as an opportunity to be creative. Conflict can be a useful tool if it leads to a productive result and is handled skillfully and respectfully. Collaboration does not imply an absence of conflict. Collaborative Law does provide an opportunity to approach potential conflict with a constructive solution-oriented attitude.

10. Listen carefully to your partner’s expressed feelings, priorities, concerns, and interests. It is very important that you try to understand what matters to your partner, and why. True collaboration aims for maximum consensus, which implies that everyone will be attempting to find resolutions that encompass as much as possible of what is important to each of you.