Posted by Nydia Streets of Streets Law in Florida Alimony

A case was just published by the Fifth District Court of Appeal in Florida on November 30, 2018 which explores the concept of res judicata in relation to an alimony claim. Res judicata is Latin for “A matter judged”. It can be thought of as double jeopardy in civil cases - the doctrine of res judicata not only bars a party from re-litigating issues that were raised in a case that proceeded to a final judgment, but it also precludes consideration of issues that could have been raised but were not raised at the time the final judgment was entered. See Portwood v. Portwood, 5D17-2713 (Fla. 5th DCA 2018).

In the Portwood case, the former wife appealed the trial court’s decision to deny her motion for contempt on the basis of res judicata. The parties entered a settlement agreement in which the former husband agreed to pay non-modifiable monthly alimony and additional alimony equal to the amount of the monthly mortgage payment on the marital residence. When the former husband did not pay his alimony as agreed, the former wife filed a motion for contempt against him without mentioning the mortgage payments. This first motion for contempt was granted and the parties then entered a stipulation which reduced the former husband’s monthly payments.

The former husband, however, unilaterally crossed out a part of the stipulation which stated he would continue to make the monthly mortgage payments in full. Even before the stipulation was entered, the former husband reportedly failed to make the mortgage payments, and the former wife then filed an amended motion for contempt alleging the former husband was behind on the mortgage payments. The trial court denied the former wife’s motion on the basis that she could have raised the issue of non-payment of the mortgage in her first motion for contempt.

The former wife appealed, and the appellate court reversed the trial court’s ruling that the former wife’s second motion was barred by res judicata. The appellate court held: “However, as Former Wife points out, a litigant raising a defense of res judicata must still assert that there has been both a judgment on the merits in a prior suit and that the four identities described above have been met [(1) identity in the thing sued for; (2) identity of the cause of action; (3) identity of the persons and parties to the actions; and (4) identity of the quality or capacity of the persons for or against whom the claim is made] [. . .] To the contrary, the motions here contained distinct factual allegations and sought contempt for different forms of alimony. Therefore, the conclusion that res judicata precluded the court from considering the motion for contempt regarding the stipulation mortgage payments was error.”

If you need help enforcing a Florida alimony obligation or defending against a motion for contempt, contact a Miami divorce attorney. A consultation can help you decide the best way to move forward.