Legal matters involving family members can be incredibly stressful. The mere fact that a court has to intervene in a family matter to solve a problem is enough to make tensions run high. Some family members may be hesitant to testify, offer information, or give up evidence that is relevant to a dispute. Fortunately, there is a way to require a person to do these things: the subpoena.

What is a Subpoena?

A subpoena is a legal document ordered under the authority of the court that requires a person to act in a specific way. If you receive a subpoena you can be required to show up to court, produce documents, or show up in court with documents. The term subpoena is actually a Latin phrase that means “under penalty.” So, a subpoena is a court order that, if not followed, is punishable by law.

How Are Subpoenas Used in Family Law Matters?

Subpoenas can be used by either the plaintiff or defendant in any family law proceeding, including divorces, child custody matters, and alimony disputes. Subpoenas can be served on the other parties and/or neutral third parties who may have information or evidence that is relevant to the case at hand.

Since these legal disputes are often very personal and have high stakes, certain parties may be unwilling to volunteer their insight or valuable information. Subpoenas can be used, quite literally, to force these unwilling parties to participate.

There are three primary types of subpoenas that can be useful in California family law matters: personal appearance, production of documents, and a hybrid of the two.

Compelling Personal Appearance

A subpoena can be used to order a person to show up in court or at some other legal proceeding to testify under oath. This type of subpoena [SUBP-001] can be useful in getting important testimony on the record that:

  • Clears up disputes between the parties
  • Offers neutral insight into a complicated situation
  • Supports the legal argument you are making, or
  • Undermines the legal argument the other party is making.

Example: Sal and Jan are getting divorced and cannot agree on how custody of their children should be divided. Jan wants sole physical custody of the children, primarily because Sal has a drug addiction. Sal argues that he is clean and sober, and that his drug use is no longer an issue. Jan knows for a fact that Sal recently used drugs with a few of his friends. Since Jan’s friends would likely be unwilling to testify against him voluntarily, Jan’s attorney could subpoena those friends and force them to testify.

Compelling the Presentation of Documents

A subpoena does not always mean that the recipient will have to show up in court to testify. Subpoenas [SUBP-001] can also be used to require a person to turn over documents that are relevant to a legal proceeding.

Example: Ed and Sue are getting divorced and have agreed to share custody of their two children. Sue will have timeshare custody of 70 percent, while Ed will have timeshare custody of 30 percent. Ed spends less time with the kids and earns more money, so he will be responsible for paying child support. When Ed submits his financial disclosure, Sue notices that he has left certain income off the form. She believes that this was an effort to reduce the amount of support he has to pay. Ed refuses to give Sue access to his records, so his attorney subpoenas those records. Ed must now present those records for review or face harsh penalties.

Compelling Presence and Documents

Subpoenas can also accomplish the best of both worlds: requiring a person to show up in court with documents in hand. If you are asking for documents that may need a bit of clarification or explanation, this can be a great tool. [SUBP-002]

Example: Amy and Alex are getting a divorce and having a difficult time dividing their assets. Amy knows that property obtained by either spouse during the marriage is classified as “community property” in California. She suspects that Alex has not disclosed all of his retirement accounts, of which she is entitled to half. She discusses the issue with her attorney, who issues a subpoena to require Alex to show up in court with records reflecting all of his retirement accounts.

Ignore a Subpoena at Your Own Risk

While either the plaintiff or defendant can request a subpoena, they are issued under the authority of a California family law court. Ignoring a lawful court order is a form of contempt, punishable by civil fines and criminal charges. If you do not obey a subpoena in full, you could face some harsh financial consequences and even end up behind bars.

Los Angeles Family Law Attorneys

Subpoenas have great power in Los Angeles family law disputes. Whether you need force someone to testify in your legal matter or have been served with a subpoena yourself, our Los Angeles family law attorneys can help. Call Fernandez & Karney to schedule a free consultation with our skilled legal team. We will review your case, explain your rights, and answer any questions you have.