what happens if you don’t show up to family court
Family court handles important legal matters like divorce, child custody, and child support. If you are summoned to appear in family court, it is crucial that you show up. Declining to appear can result in serious repercussions. Here is an overview of what can happen if you fail to show up to family court.
A Default Judgment Can Be Entered Against You
One of the most damaging outcomes of not appearing in family court is that the judge can enter a default judgment against you. This means the other party automatically wins the case because you did not show up to defend yourself.
For example, if you are summoned to a child support hearing and do not appear, the court will likely enter a default order requiring you to pay the amount of support requested by the other parent. You will not get a chance to argue against the amount or present evidence of your own income.
Your Claim Can Be Dismissed
Similarly, if you are the petitioner in a family court case and fail to appear at a hearing, the judge can dismiss your petition altogether. This immediately ends the case in favor of the responding party, since you did not follow through with your own claim.
For instance, if you file for divorce but then do not show up at the hearing, your divorce petition will likely be dismissed. You would have to start the process all over again later if you still want to get divorced.
You May Be Found in Contempt of Court
Not showing up to family court when ordered to appear is a form of contempt of court. The judge can issue a contempt finding against you, which brings several penalties:
- Fines: Contempt fines typically start at $1,000 for a first offense. Subsequent violations can result in fines of several thousand dollars.
- Jail time: Contempt can be punished by up to 6 months in jail in most states.
- Other sanctions: Judges can get creative with contempt punishments, like temporary loss of driver’s license or passport for example.
Civil vs. Criminal Contempt
Judges can pursue two types of contempt charges for skipping court:
- Civil contempt aims to compel your compliance with the court’s orders. Jail time is meant to induce you to follow the court’s instructions.
- Criminal contempt punishes your defiance. Jail time and fines are penalties rather than inducements to comply.
A Warrant Can Be Issued for Your Arrest
If you fail to appear after being properly served with notice, the judge can order the police to arrest you. An arrest warrant will be issued with your name and information.
The warrant empowers law enforcement to take you into custody anywhere the warrant is valid. Typically it is statewide, but some family court warrants are issued nationwide.
Once arrested, you will be transported to jail until you can be brought before the family court judge to answer for your absence. You may have to post bail to secure your release while awaiting a hearing.
You May Not Get Another Chance to Be Heard
Depending on the circumstances, declining to appear in family court could result in losing your right to tell your side of the story. If the other party pursues a default judgment, you may not get an opportunity to present evidence or object to their requests.
For example, if you miss a child custody hearing after being properly notified, the judge may award full custody to the other parent without hearing your preferences.
At a minimum, you will have to file paperwork and pay fees to request another hearing date. There is no guarantee your request will be granted.
Future Notifications May Be Harder to Receive
Once you have failed to show up, the court will be less inclined to bend over backward providing notice in the future. For instance, they may authorize the other party to serve you legal papers rather than ensuring service by law enforcement.
This makes it easier to miss important hearing dates and deadlines if your contact information changes. Be sure to keep your address updated with the court and all parties to the case.
Missed Court Dates Are Hard to Explain
When you finally appear in court after missing a hearing, the judge will demand an explanation. Unless you have an exceptionally good reason, it will be challenging to get back in the judge’s good graces.
Illness, accident, death in the family, or unavoidable work/military service might be satisfactory excuses – but the court will require proof. Otherwise, judges view absenteeism as disrespectful.
Future Court Orders May Be More Restrictive
Once you have failed to follow court rules, a family court judge will think twice about trusting you to comply in the future. Expect more stringent parameters around things like visitation, alcohol and drug testing, curfews, etc.
For example, a custody order may require all visitations to be supervised after you miss court-ordered drop-offs.
You May Need to File Additional Motions
If a default judgment or dismissal occurs due to your absence, you will likely have to file a motion to set it aside. This involves drafting legal arguments and filing documents with the court.
Whether you represent yourself or hire an attorney, seeking to undo the damages caused by missing court will cost you more time and money.
Your Credibility Suffers
Beyond tangible consequences, your reputation in the eyes of the court will be damaged if you are absent without an ironclad excuse. In future hearings, the judge is less likely to believe what you say.
Likewise, if the other party makes false claims in your absence, those may be taken at face value. It will be challenging to overcome their newly enhanced credibility later on.
You May Need to Start Over
As outlined above, missing family court can result in defaults, dismissals, or orders that severely disadvantage you. To fix the situation, you may have to start the court process all over again.
This means re-filing paperwork, paying court costs a second time, and waiting for new hearing dates. Family court backlogs mean starting over could drag out the case for many additional months or longer.
Seeking Emergency Relief Becomes Harder
Family courts can enter temporary emergency orders to protect parties or preserve the status quo while a case runs its course. For instance, a temporary restraining order against an abusive spouse.
If you have flouted the court’s authority by being absent, the judge will be reluctant to entertain your requests for emergency relief later on.
Travel Can Be Restricted
To ensure you appear in the future, the court may order that you cannot leave the area or travel internationally. Disobeying the court’s travel restrictions could be an additional contempt of court.
Judges may require that you surrender any passports and refrain from applying for any new passports. Driving privileges may also be suspended.
Your Assets Could Be Seized
In egregious cases of defying family court authority – like fleeing the jurisdiction permanently – judges have ordered the seizure and sale of property belonging to the absent party.
This aims to compensate the compliant party for legal costs incurred due to the absentee’s non-appearance and contempt of court.
Bench Warrant vs. Arrest Warrant
There are two types of warrants that can be issued when you miss court:
- A bench warrant authorizes police to bring you before the family court judge.
- An arrest warrant requires police to arrest you and book you into jail like a criminal defendant.
Arrest warrants are used for extreme non-compliance, like fleeing overseas to dodge court orders. Bench warrants are issued when there is no indication you are evading the court deliberately.
Your Attorney Can’t Save You
Having a lawyer does not excuse your personal appearance in court when summoned. Your attorney can file motions and appear at hearings on your behalf, but their presence does not take the place of you appearing in person when required.
Preventing Harsh Consequences
The potential consequences of skipping family court are clearly devastating. Here are some tips to avoid missing court dates:
Prioritize Court Hearings
Treat any family court notice as immovable on your schedule. Take time off work, arrange childcare, etc. Showing up is mandatory – the court will not reschedule hearings endlessly.
When you receive a court date, immediately add it to your digital and paper calendars. Set alerts to remind you days or hours before the hearing time.
Double Check Logistics
Confirm the exact court location and courtroom ahead of time. Arriving late or to the wrong place still counts as failure to appear.
Arrange Reliable Transportation
Line up dependable means to get to the courthouse days ahead, such as a friend willing to drive you or a rideshare scheduled in advance.
Follow Up on Notifications
If the court date arrives and you have not received a reminder, proactively call the court clerk to confirm date, time, and location. Do not ignore a lost notice.
Designate a Trusted Contact
Provide the court clerk with the name and contact information of someone who will know how to reach you about court dates if you move.
Seek Emergency Postponements
If an unforeseeable emergency like hospitalization prevents your appearance, immediately ask the court clerk about emergency postponement or remote appearance options.
Review Consequences Ahead of Time
Understand in advance what kinds of penalties you may face for missing court, including fines, arrest, and loss of the case.
Recovery After Missing Court
If you regrettably fail to appear, take prompt action to get back in the court’s good graces:
Contact the Court Clerk
Call the clerk’s office as soon as possible to acknowledge your absence, apologize, and learn the judge’s requirements for appearing later or filing to undo the default.
Act Fast to Explain
Draft a declaration explaining exactly why you missed court and requesting relief from any penalties. File this with the court right away.
Provide Supporting Documentation
Supply proof to corroborate your explanation, like hospital records if you missed court for medical reasons.
Be Proactive About Future Appearances
Offer additional contact information and request enhanced reminders about upcoming court dates to demonstrate your good faith efforts to comply.
Show Up Promptly for Next Court Date
Make punctual appearance at the very next court date a top priority to prove future reliability.
Hire an Attorney If Needed
Getting counsel involved can lend credibility when asking the court to be merciful in response to an absence.
Be Respectful and Sincere
Adopt a remorseful tone when explaining your non-appearance and requesting another chance. Do not make excuses or shift blame. Judges value contrition.
A family court notice to appear should never be ignored. The consequences of not showing up can be severe and hard to undo. Protect yourself by prioritizing court dates, maintaining current contact information with the court clerk, and being proactive about reminders and logistics. If the unthinkable happens, immediately acknowledge your mistake and throw yourself at the court’s mercy. With prompt and sincere efforts to make amends, you may be able to recover from a inadvertent failure to appear.
How soon after missing court should you contact the clerk?
Contact the clerk’s office immediately, ideally that same day. Do not wait, as delay will increase the judge’s frustration with your noncompliance.
Can you request a warrant be rescinded?
Yes, if a bench warrant was issued after you missed court, you or your attorney can file a motion asking the judge to withdraw the warrant. But there is no guarantee this request will be granted.
Is non-appearance always contempt of court?
Not necessarily. Judges have discretion whether to issue contempt charges and tend to reserve that for willful defiance of court authority. But you can still face penalties like default judgment or dismissal even if not charged with contempt.
Can you get arrested over the weekend or holiday if you miss court before?
Yes – the police do not halt warrant enforcement just because court is closed. The warrant remains active until rescinded by a judge.
What if you show up very late?
Arriving hours late is technically still failure to appear. But appearing late is generally better than not at all. You will still face reprimand but may avoid the harshest outcomes.