Family Law Corner: Footballer Ex-Wife's Contempt Defense Calls in Divine Interception (of Jurisdiction)

Three years ago, NFL Hall of Famer Deion Sanders was litigating the validity of his premarital agreement with his ex-wife, Pilar Sanders. Despite having finally dissolved their marriage (Pilar lost on her premarital agreement claim), they are still battling it out in the family court.  Pilar was just sentenced to thirty days in jail for contempt of court. The judge suspended and probated her sentence for one year, but ordered her to serve seven days in jail as part of the probation. According to the Dallas News, the evidence showed that she violated the parties’ custody order sixteen times and, at one point, did not return the children to Deion for more than a week. 

Pilar Sanders’ contempt sentence was made by the State of Texas, but the family court in California also has the authority to sentence a person to jail time for contempt of court. Family Code §290 provides that “a judgment or order made or entered pursuant to this code may be enforced by the court by ... contempt, or by such other order as the court in its discretion determines from time to time to be necessary." Because contempt cases are quasi-criminal in nature, California courts have held for more than a century that all elements (knowledge of the order, ability to comply, and willful disobedience of the order) must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. (In re Witherspoon (1984) 162 Cal.App.3d 1000; see also Coursey v. Superior Court (1987) 194 Cal.App.3d 147.)

Pursuant to the Code of Civil Procedure §1218(1) "(I)n any court action in which a party is found in contempt of court for failure to comply with a court order pursuant to the Family Code, the court shall order. . .” community service of 120 hours or imprisonment of up to 120 hours for each count of contempt if this is a “first finding” of contempt.  Upon further findings of contempt, imprisonment is mandatory. Had Pilar’s conviction occurred in California (and assuming this is Pilar’s first contempt conviction), her two counts of contempt would amount to possibly ten days in jail. 

The Dallas News also reported that Pilar is now claiming that the “U.S. Corporation” has no jurisdiction over her because she is a member of the “Moorish Divine and National Movement of the World” and can only be judged by the “Moroccan Empire.”  Her jurisdictional claims will apparently be part of her appeal, likely made from the inside of a jail cell.