The word subpoena means to be “under order” legally. This is a legal command from an official court, requiring someone to appear, produce documentation, or take another action.

In family law, subpoenas are often ordered in divorce and custody cases. If you ignore or willfully disregard the order, you can be held in contempt of court and face jail time and fines.

What Are Subpoenas Used for?

Courts use subpoenas for two reasons:

  • To order a person to appear in court
  • To order documents or objects to appear in court

A deposition subpoena is sometimes used as a way to gather evidence before a trial, but this use is not common in family law cases.

For family law, subpoenas may be used to:

  • Prove a person’s financial assets 
  • Prove infidelity
  • Establish paternity
  • Establish mental capabilities
  • Confirm criminal history

Subpoenas can also be used to prove parental incapacity. Additional ways that subpoenas can be used include:

To Make Sure Someone Shows Up in Court

An individual may receive a subpoena that orders them to show up in court at a specific date and time. This is generally used when the person will be required to testify about something related to a legal case.

A common example might involve a custody hearing in which one parent is trying to secure sole custody. If they claim the other parent is unfit due to substance abuse, the court may subpoena doctors or therapists who have treated the parent in question.

To Force Someone to Provide Documentation

Sometimes, documents are subpoenaed as evidence to help build a case. Other times, they’re ordered by the judge in the midst of proceedings.

For instance, in the case of contested paternity, the court may order a child’s presumed father to produce DNA test results supporting or disproving the parental claim.

A heated divorce might include accusations of hidden assets. The court could subpoena records of all known assets in the first case. 

Often a combination of the two types of subpoenas is used. When a person needs to testify as well as bring evidence, this can be required through a single order.

Subpoenas Can Have Multiple Purposes

The court may require a person to appear in the courtroom. They may be required to bring the documentation or other evidence, testify about what they saw or heard, or explain the evidence that they brought.

One common family law issue is when a noncustodial parent claims that they can’t afford the child support payment amounts that are required. To prove or disprove this statement, they may receive a summons to come to court in person and bring documented proof of their income.

If you ignore an official court summons, intentionally or not, you could be fined or be sentenced to jail. Civil and criminal fines might apply, depending upon the circumstances. 

If you purposely refuse to provide documentation or testimony as asked, you could face a contempt charge, which can come with stiff financial penalties.

While jail time is not as common in family law matters, it is a possible outcome of ignoring a subpoena. The circumstances will be reviewed at an official hearing and you may be able to explain your reasons for not complying.

If you’re not sure about the best ways to address a subpoena that you’ve received, speak with a skilled legal professional.