Posted by Nydia Streets of Streets Law in Procedure

When a party to a Florida family law case fails to pay court-ordered support, if he or she is found in contempt, that party may face jail time, an award of attorneys’ fees to the opposing party, and/or other coercive sanctions. Getting the court to hold a party in contempt requires specific findings to be made as explained in the appellate case Brown v. Brown, 210 So.3d 781 (Fla. 5th DCA 2017).  

After the former husband was found in contempt for failure to pay alimony, he appealed the ruling, arguing the trial court failed to make a finding that he had the ability to pay the alimony. Under Florida family laws, an order holding a party in contempt must contain the following findings (in addition to a recital of the facts used to support these findings): 

1. That a prior order of support was entered; 

2. That the party accused of not paying has failed to pay part or all of the support ordered; 

3. That the party had the present ability to pay the support; and 

4. That the party willfully failed to follow the order mandating payment.  

Because in this case the trial court did not include in its order an express finding that the former husband had the ability to pay the alimony, the appellate court reversed the order of contempt. However, because the order contained factual findings regarding the former husband’s finances (which indicated the former husband did have the ability to pay the support), the appellate court instructed that the trial court merely had to enter a revised order with the explicit finding of an ability to pay. So, the former husband could still be found in contempt so long as the trial court corrected the omission in its order.  

A finding of contempt can have dire consequences. For that reason, it is important that a party facing contempt proceedings have an experienced Miami Family Law attorney on his/her side. An attorney can help you put forth your best defense, assist you in forming a plan to get caught up on your support obligation and help you to apply for a decrease in payments if possible.