California Penal Code 166.5 PC allows courts to suspend criminal proceedings for failure to pay child or spousal support if the defendant appears in court, acknowledges his/her obligation to pay support, and provides a bond. If the defendant still fails to pay support, the court will order a hearing to determine whether to proceed with the underlying contempt case.
The full text of the statute reads as follows:
166.5 PC. (a) After arrest and before plea or trial or after conviction or plea of guilty and before sentence under paragraph (4) of subdivision (a) of Section 166, for willful disobedience of any order for child, spousal, or family support issued pursuant to Division 9 (commencing with Section 3500) of the Family Code or Section 17400 of the Family Code, the court may suspend proceedings or sentence therein if:
(1) The defendant appears before the court and affirms his or her obligation to pay to the person having custody of the child, or the spouse, that sum per month as shall have been previously fixed by the court in order to provide for the minor child or the spouse.
(2) The defendant provides a bond or other undertaking with sufficient sureties to the people of the State of California in a sum as the court may fix to secure the defendant’s performance of his or her support obligations and that bond or undertaking is valid and binding for two years, or any lesser time that the court shall fix.
(b) Upon the failure of the defendant to comply with the conditions imposed by the court in subdivision (a), the defendant may be ordered to appear before the court and show cause why further proceedings should not be had in the action or why sentence should not be imposed, whereupon the court may proceed with the action, or pass sentence, or for good cause shown may modify the order and take a new bond or undertaking and further suspend proceedings or sentence for a like period.
Defendants who intentionally fail to pay spousal or child support in California face misdemeanor contempt of court charges, which can carry up to six months in jail. The purpose of 166.5 PC is to give people a second chance to pay child and spousal support. After all, incarcerated defendants are unable to earn money to pay arrears.1
California courts can suspend contempt proceedings at any time after the defendant’s arrest and before sentencing if the defendant does the following three things:
- Appear in court;
- Affirms his/her obligation to pay support; and
- Pays a bond2
But if the defendant ever falls behind in payments again, the court can order the defendant to appear at a “show cause” hearing. The judge will then decide whether to either:
- Modify the support order and take a new bond (giving the defendant another chance to pay support); or
- Continue with the underlying contempt proceedings, which may result in the defendant being jailed.3
- California Penal Code 166.5 PC – Suspension of Support Proceedings or Sentence. See also CALCRIM No. 2700.
- 166.5 PC.