Articles Posted in Contempt

If you have a court order that obligates you to pay a reasonable amount of alimony to your ex-spouse and you’re capable of paying it, then the best thing you can do is… pay it. Of course, life isn’t always that simple, especially in this time of coronavirus-fueled economic instability, which is affecting more and more ex-spouses who are under court orders to pay alimony. If your court-ordered amount is more than you can pay or is otherwise unreasonable, then you should reach out as soon as possible to an experienced South Florida family law attorney so that your attorney can begin working on getting your alimony obligation modified.

Simply allowing yourself to fall behind on alimony is almost never the right answer, and can come with some serious consequences. However, even if you have made the mistake of racking up an alimony arrearage, failure to pay does not mean that you are without any rights. You are still entitled to certain legal protections and there are still certain processes and procedures the court must go through before administering certain penalties.

As an example, we can look at a recent alimony case from Broward County. That husband owed alimony to his ex-wife in excess of $600,000, and the wife filed a motion to find the husband in contempt.

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The current pandemic caused by COVID-19 (a/k/a novel coronavirus) has upset almost everyone’s routines. Miami, Miami Beach and many others in South Florida were, as of March 25, under a “shelter in place” or “safer at home” order. Businesses are closed, churches are closed, schools are closed, and many parents may be unable to attend work, as well. If you are a divorced parent with children of that marriage, one question that may be at the forefront of your mind is… how do the current circumstances affect my timesharing schedule? You may have concerns about doing an exchange due to infection risks or because of the current governmental orders in place, but you may also have concerns about deviating from the court-ordered schedule for fear of facing a contempt of court charge later. For answers to you pressing questions about timesharing, be sure that you’re getting advice from a knowledgeable South Florida family law attorney.

An article recently published by Business Insider focused on this. The answer to this unprecedented question, as is true for so many legal matters, is… it depends. If, for example, you have primary responsibility for your children and the children’s other parent is infected with this virus, then the legal system is not going to require you to give that parent timesharing while she/he’s infected. This may be made even simpler because, if she/he’s infected, she/he probably will insist that you keep the kids until her/his period of contagiousness (and risk to the children) passes. On the other hand, if your children’s other parent isn’t infected, but her/his current partner’s coworker’s spouse is, that probably isn’t enough basis for refusing to facilitate timesharing.

One key thing to know is that there is no law that is, as lawyers call it, exactly “on point.” There is no Florida Statute or court case that says what you should do about timesharing during a global viral pandemic. However, one thing that the courts have stressed, time and again, is the importance of parents working together collaboratively in the best interests of their children.

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When your marriage breaks down and divorce ensues, there are several issues you and your spouse have to work out. To resolve some or all of these, you and your spouse may sign a marital settlement agreement (MSA). If you, at some point after your divorce is finalized, happen to violate the terms of your MSA, there are potential consequences you can face, but the law also erects some clear limits on what the courts can do to you. Obviously, the best path is to avoid violating your MSA but, if you do, make sure you have a skilled South Florida family law attorney on your side for any contempt of court actions that ensue.

A.B. was a husband who faced contempt charges after he made that kind of error. He and his ex-wife were a divorced couple with two children. The couple had an MSA that said that each spouse was entitled to claim one child as a dependent on their federal income tax return. However, in 2017, the father claimed both kids on his return.

So, what can a court do to a spouse in situation like that? When a spouse violates the terms of an MSA, there are actually several things that can occur. It is important to recognize that, if your divorce is final and your marital settlement agreement was what the law calls “incorporated” into the final judgment of divorce, then the terms of that agreement aren’t just a binding contract, they carry the weight of an order of the court.

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Many years ago, Frank Sinatra sang that “Love is lovelier the second time around.” For some, though, that isn’t true. There’s a reason that the couple broke up the first time – and those problems eventually doom the relationship the second time around. Some couples may divorce and remarry and divorce again. Others may make it to the brink of divorce, perhaps even going so far as for one spouse to file a divorce petition and for both spouses to agree to the terms of a marital settlement agreement before backing off and deciding to remain married.

If you’re in a situation like the second scenario and you eventually decide to divorce years later, what, you may wonder, should you do in terms of dealing with that old settlement agreement? The first thing you should definitely do is consult an experienced Fort Lauderdale divorce attorney to get the customized answers you need for your specific situation.

A recent case from Miami-Dade County looked into exactly that scenario of a near divorce followed by an actual divorce years later. V.T., the husband filed for divorce in 2009. In 2012, both spouses agreed to terms on a marital settlement agreement. However, the husband never pursued finalizing the divorce and the court threw out the case in 2013 after neither spouse showed up for a scheduled hearing.

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Family law cases can be emotionally intense disputes and can lead to people not following their better impulses. People, feeling the pull of powerful feelings, may make mistakes during the litigation process. Just because you’ve failed to follow those better impulses in relation to a court case, that doesn’t necessary mean that those mistakes you’ve made necessarily equate to contempt of court, though.

What’s more, anytime you’re charged with contempt, you are entitled to due process of law. Just like family law litigants and their spouses, judges are human and have the potential to make mistakes under stressful circumstances. That’s one of the many reasons why you need to be sure you have a skilled South Florida family law attorney on your side: to be sure you are protected against an improper contempt citation.

Timothy and Jesica were two parents involved in just such a contentious case, which was a custody matter. The judge ordered the parents to keep “the case off social media and to prevent family members from publishing information about the custody action on social media.”

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Spend enough time in a courtroom, and you’ll eventually hear many different words and phrases, such as “sanctions,” “criminal contempt of court” and “civil contempt of court.” To the layperson, they may all seem the same – various forms of punishment for various improper acts or omissions. However, there are certain distinctions between each of these things and these sometimes-subtle differences can have major impacts on you in your family law case. To be sure you’re not being forced to pay a penalty that was wrongfully assessed against you, protect yourself with legal representation from a skilled South Florida family law attorney.

The dispute between an ex-wife (D.A.) and her ex-husband (F.D.) is an example of how the classification of a penalty can make a world of difference. D.A. and F.D. were in court regarding where the couple’s child should attend school. The court held a hearing and, at the end, issued a ruling determining the school the child would attend. In addition, though, the court demanded that the mother pay a “sanction” in the amount of $12,500. The judge did not impose any conditions on the sanction; but rather, simply ordered the mother to pay the sum.

If you found yourself in a position like this mother, would you know what to do? One thing you should do is to challenge the imposition of this penalty, at it is very possible that the “sanction” was improper.

Sometimes, success in your case is about the facts, sometimes it’s about the law, sometimes it’s about the rules of court procedure and sometimes it’s a combination of the above. That is one reason among many why it pays to have skillful South Florida family law counsel on your side fighting for you. You know the facts of your case, but you probably don’t know all the details and specifics of Florida law or of Florida’s procedure rules. Your skilled attorney can help you make sure that the case you put on is the strongest one possible.

Your attorney can also help you spot problems that occur in your case. Sometimes, the judge in your case may do something the law doesn’t allow. Even if it was harmful to you, it very possibly was something that you did not know was impermissible. Again, having a knowledgeable advocate helps.

As an example, there’s H.F. and C.R.’s case. They were a couple whose divorce was finalized in late 2007. There was also a supplemental judgment issued in 2010. The judgments stated that certain personal property (that was being shipped from Kuwait) worth $100,000 was to go to the husband. The husband was ordered to pay the wife $111,000 over the course of four years, at $2,320 per month.

Sometimes, the solution to avoiding a citation for contempt of court is a simple one: cease disobeying the court’s order(s) and do what you were ordered to do. However, it isn’t always that straightforward, and sometimes judges take impermissible actions in contempt cases. You may find yourself improperly cited for contempt at a hearing you didn’t even attend or may find yourself on the receiving end of an improper punishment. Whenever you are facing possible contempt, you need to know what to do. And what to do needs to start with retaining an experienced South Florida family law attorney.

A pair of recent cases point out how judges can go astray and how you can use the legal process to undo such actions when they happen. First, there was the case of K.A., a mother from here in Miami. In her case, the trial judge found her in contempt of court and also altered the terms of the parents’ timesharing arrangement. Neither parent had requested modification of timesharing; rather, the trial judge reduced the mother’s timesharing as a punishment for her contempt of court.

Altering your timesharing isn’t a proper penalty for contempt

The law gives judges several options when it comes to handing out penalties for a party’s contempt of court. The judge, depending on whether the contempt was civil or criminal, may order the party in contempt to go to jail, to pay a fine or pay things like the other side’s attorney’s fees and/or court costs. One thing that a judge cannot do in Florida is reduce a parent’s timesharing as a penalty for contempt. Modification of timesharing requires proof of several things, including evidence that it is in the best interest of the child. It also requires that one parent have made a motion and properly placed the issue of timesharing before the court. Simply modifying timesharing without a request for modification, solely because one parent was in contempt, is not proper, so the reduction of K.A.’s timesharing was reversed by the appeals court.

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Everyone who is familiar with the legal system has, at some point, encountered a judicial order or case that they thought was wrongly decided. In your family law case, it is very important to know how to respond to various situations, including receiving an order that you think was incorrectly decided. A recent case originating in Sarasota County, and recently considered by the Fifth District Court of Appeal, is an example of a case with an injunction that one spouse thought was improper, and the erroneous way that he dealt with it.

The case involved the divorce of a couple named Todd and Ashley. In the early portion of the case, the trial judge issued an injunction, which is a type of court order that orders the subjects to refrain from doing certain things. This injunction told the husband that he was prohibited from “selling, transferring, alienating, pledging, forfeiting, hypothecating, encumbering, mortgaging, dissipating, spending and/or purchasing, and/or concealing and/or otherwise alienating any real property, personal property, securities, cash, or other assets or income of any kind or nature in which he holds an interest.” In other words, he was barred from doing anything with any of his assets other than maintaining them in good faith.

The husband believed that the trial judge had committed a legal error in issuing this injunction and that, under the law, the prohibition should never have been put in place. So what can you do if you are the subject of an injunction that bars you from doing certain things, but you think that the injunction was illegal? You have various options, but they generally all involve utilizing the legal system, including the appellate process, to get the injunction thrown out. You do NOT, however, have the option of simply deciding that you think the order is improper under the law, and, therefore, you are going to ignore it and go ahead and do things that were included in the list of prohibitions in the injunction order.

“Self help” is a phrase often used in legal cases involving landlords and tenants. It generally refers to a landlord who decides to throw out a tenant on his own, without going through the proper legal procedures required for an eviction. Serious negative consequences can befall a landlord who engages in self help. While the phrase “self help” doesn’t exist in Florida family law cases, a similar truth exists. If you think your ex-spouse has violated the terms of your marital settlement agreement, and you decide to respond by taking matters into your own hands and acting on your own without going through the proper legal channels, it can create significant problems for you. It is a much better plan, instead, to retain an experienced attorney to help you protect your interests.

One common situation in which this type of problem crops up, and was at issue again in a very recent Fourth District Court of Appeal case that originated in Palm Beach County, relates to the marital residence. Many marital settlement agreements may give the exclusive use and possession of the home to one spouse but require that the spouses share the responsibility for paying the mortgage on the home. These agreements may impose certain restrictions on what the spouse who takes the home can and cannot do. For example, an agreement might give the home to the wife but prohibit any unrelated males from living in the home while the wife has sole possession.

So let’s say a couple has an agreement like the one described above, but the wife moves her boyfriend into the house. What can the husband do? Can he simply stop paying his half of the mortgage? No, he generally cannot. Furthermore, if the home is the residence of not just the ex-wife but also the couple’s children, the consequences facing the husband if he doesn’t pay can be especially serious. That’s because, in the scenario outlined above, that husband’s payment of 50% of the mortgage is considered to be a type of spousal support and child support. Not paying the mortgage can subject the husband to contempt of court penalties, potentially up to and including jail, the same as any other parent who is not paying their child support.