Posted by Nydia Streets of Streets Law in Florida Child Support

A party who fails to abide by a court order may be held in contempt. The consequences of this can include incarceration, money fines and other sanctions. In order for a court to hold a party in contempt, there must be showing that an order mandates the party to do (or not do) something, and that party intentionally failed to comply with the order. Motions for contempt are most commonly used in Florida family law cases to enforce child support payments.

Florida child support orders usually contain provisions which dictate which parent will pay how much of certain expenses such as daycare, uncovered medical expenses, dental expenses and orthodontic expenses. In the case St. Onge v. Carriero, 1D17-3943 (Fla. 1st DCA 2018), the court considered an appeal brought by a father regarding an order holding him in contempt. The parties’ marital settlement agreement obligated the father to pay one-half of the children’s medical and dental expenses. The agreement did not contain a definition of dental expenses, and a part of the agreement which was left blank referred to medical, dental and orthodontic as separate expenses.

Thus, the parties’ agreement was silent as to orthodontic expenses. Nonetheless, the mother filed a motion for contempt against the father alleging that he did not pay his one-half share of orthodontic expenses. The trial court granted the mother’s motion, and the appellate court reversed, holding, “Because the marital settlement agreement was silent on the payment of orthodontic expenses, the trial court erred in holding Former Husband in contempt for failing to pay these expenses.” The appellate court further cited established case law which states, “To support a contempt finding, the violated order must clearly and definitely make the party aware of the court's command.” Here, where the father was not on clear notice that he had to pay orthodontic expenses by the clear terms of the order, he could not be held in contempt.

If you are facing a motion for contempt, you should seek counsel from a Miami family law attorney who can help you determine if you have any defenses. Through a consultation, you can learn about your best options.