“Contempt of court” sounds like something you might hear a judge yell at an unruly defendant on a TV show, but its real-life use as a procedure is more common than one might think. This is evidenced in a recent case against former professional wrestler Ric Flair (legal name: Richard Fliehr).
Sometime after his most recent spouse, Jacqueline Beems, filed for legal separation in the summer of 2012, Fliehr was ordered to pay a monthly spousal support in the amount of $4,000. Having failed to do so, contempt proceedings were brought against Fliehr. On June 18, 2013, Fliehr was found in contempt and ordered by a Mecklenburg County judge to pay the amount of $32,352.51 to Beems. When he failed to make that payment, a warrant for his arrest was issued July 3 of this year. Fliehr is now required to pay the ordered amount or risk jail time as part of the contempt order, although the amount of jail time he could face is unclear. While this case is in North Carolina, Florida laws concerning contempt of court can be similarly stringent.
Contempt of court in the state of Florida is defined in Florida Statute 38.23. It essentially deals with the failure, whether intentional or not, to comply with any legal directive levied against a defendant, by a judge, within a given time frame. The severity of the punishment can vary based on the nature of the transgression and whether a person is facing the charge of contempt in criminal or civil proceedings and said punishment can range from a fine, to the payment of legal fees, to jail time. It is not uncommon for judgments in civil proceedings to be enforced through the mechanism of contempt.
According to Florida state law, the courts themselves cannot initiate proceedings to hold a person in civil contempt. A motion must be filed by the complainant alleging the failure of the offending party to comply with the court’s initial ruling; in this case, that Mr. Fliehr should pay the $4,000 a month in Spousal Support. At this point in the proceedings, it is the burden of the complainant to prove that the offender has knowledge of the motion of contempt, generally through “Personal Service” (hand delivery) of the motion, although there are instances where a motion can be mailed. Next, the complainant (in Fliehr’s case, Ms. Beems) must prove the offending party (Fliehr) has the means to pay the amount that is due. Though Fliehr has stated he plans to make the payment, this may not be an option for some people. If it can be argued that the “contemnor” does not have the means to comply with the judge’s order, they cannot be held in contempt and cannot, at that time, be made to face punishment.
Contempt in cases involving family law are rarely as straightforward as Fliehr’s example. Obviously a man of Fliehr’s notoriety and means should have no trouble settling his case and avoiding punishment. His reasons for non-payment and supposed willingness to pay will most likely bring this highly publicized case to a close without too much further legal wrangling.
The Florida family law attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. is known for standing up for our clients. Clients who may be in otherwise difficult positions with regard to either separation, divorce, custody, or support payments, will want an experienced and knowledgeable advocate to navigate, negotiate, and achieve the best solution. Whether you are going through a legal dispute or are expecting one, we can help. For a confidential consultation on your issues, contact our office online or by calling (800) 596-0579.
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