Posted by Nydia Streets of Streets Law in Florida Family Law Procedure

When a party fails to follow the terms of a court order, what remedies are available to the injured party? It depends on what terms are being violated - if the terms deal with support, generally there are different enforcement options available than those that correspond with violation of non-support matters.

Support matters include child support and alimony. Other terms of an agreement or order dealing with issues such as equitable distribution are considered non-support issues. When a party violates an order to pay support, remedies include contempt which can lead to incarceration. When a party violates a non-support provision, contempt is not an available remedy. Instead, a party must seek enforcement via methods such as liens and/or garnishment.

In the case Schroll v. Schroll, 1D17-2466 (Fla. 1st DCA 2018), the former husband was held in contempt and actually incarcerated for what the trial court deemed a violation of the equitable distribution terms of the parties’ final judgment. The record showed that the parties made several transfers between accounts to effectuate what was their individual interpretations of the final judgment. Ultimately, after the former wife filed a motion for contempt, the trial court found the former husband to be in contempt of his obligation to provide to the former wife her share of marital assets. He was imprisoned for one day and released after his daughter paid the purge amount to have him released.

The appellate court reversed the order of contempt, however, holding, “ Although courts can use contempt powers to compel specific actions to facilitate property transfers—they can, for example, use contempt to compel return of personal property —they cannot convert a general payment obligation into something enforceable by contempt by simply characterizing it as an obligation to perform a specific action. [. . .] In this case, we cannot interpret the obligation at issue as anything other than part of a marital property settlement. Nor can we interpret the court's orders as anything other than an attempt to compel the former husband make certain payments or face imprisonment. Indeed, the order of incarceration specifically provided that the former husband was to remain in custody "until such time as he purges himself by payment to the former wife . . . in liquid, non-retirement funds." We conclude, therefore, that the court lacked authority to hold the former husband in contempt.” (internal citations omitted).

If you are facing a contempt hearing, schedule a consultation with a Miami family law attorney to determine your best defenses. In some cases, contempt may not even be proper, so do not risk your freedom by facing the issue alone. A consultation may help you decide the best way to proceed.