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

If an ex-spouse stops paying court-ordered alimony, a remedy available to the other ex-spouse is a contempt proceeding. At a hearing on a motion for contempt, if the court finds a party willfully failed to pay court-ordered support, a suspended jail sentence may be imposed, contingent on the party paying what is called a purge amount within a certain amount of time to avoid jail. Because incarceration is involved, a court must be careful to provide due process protections in these types of hearings.

In Carter v. Hart, 240 So.3d 863 the former husband appealed a finding of contempt against him in part on the following grounds: (1) that his petition for modification of alimony was not heard prior to the former wife’s motion for contempt being considered; and (2) that the former wife’s motion for contempt and notice of hearing did contain required language putting him on warning that his failure to appear at the hearing could result in his incarceration.

On the first ground, the appellate court affirmed, holding: “We conclude that Former Husband is not entitled to relief because the trial court held a simultaneous evidentiary hearing on Former Wife's motion for contempt and Former Husband's motion for temporary reduction or termination of alimony that contained the identical allegations and grounds for relief contained in his amended supplemental petition for modification of alimony.” The appellate court also remarked that the trial court reviewed assets available to the former husband to pay his alimony, as it could do since it is not required to limit its review to cash available to the former husband.

On the second ground, the trial court’s ruling was also upheld with the appellate court holding: “Here, Former Husband [. . .] was present with counsel at the contempt hearing and was provided with his due process right to present evidence as to his present ability to pay and whether his failure to pay alimony was willful. Thus, the failure, if any, to include the above language from rule 12.615 in Former Wife's motion for contempt did not adversely affect Former Husband's due process rights to notice and an opportunity to be heard and present evidence. Finally, at the start of the contempt hearing, the trial court unequivocally placed Former Husband on notice that he was facing potential incarceration as a sanction for contempt. At no point during the hearing did Former Husband object or otherwise argue that this sanction or remedy for his potential contempt was unavailable because Former Wife did not request it in her motion.”

If you are facing a contempt motion or need to pursue a contempt motion against the other party for failure to abide by a court order, contact a Miami family lawyer. During a consultation, you can explain the unique facts of your case and receive guidance on how to proceed.