Articles Posted in Contempt

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.

An ex-wife secured an important victory in the Fourth District Court of Appeal, with that court ruling that she could pursue the ex-husband’s insurance assets and homestead property if she could establish that the ex-husband engaged in fraud. The ruling was a significant one in that it rejected the notion that “homestead property and insurance policies are always exempt from the contempt powers of the court regardless of fraud.”

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In a decision that may, hopefully, bring a degree of closure to one family, prosecutors in South Florida decided to drop criminal charges that were pending against a mother who had famously violated court orders related to the custody of her young son, the Palm Beach Post reported. The case made national news due to the issue at the center of the parents’ dispute (the child’s circumcision), but ultimately provides a reminder of the strong enforceability of parenting agreements, even if one parent has a profound change-of-heart later.

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When you become involved in a family law case, it is important that you follow the orders issued by the judge. However, it is also important to understand that, if you do not comply, there are certain limits imposed by the law regarding the punishments that the judge can hand out. These limits are the reason that the Third District Court of Appeal threw out an order jailing a man recently. The man, represented by Sandy T. Fox, P.A. Law Offices, could not permissibly be jailed because the notice regarding his most recent hearing, which he attended, did not state that he was potentially facing criminal contempt penalties.

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When you go through a divorce in Florida, you may be ordered to make payments to your ex-spouse for various different reasons. While the preferred outcome is to make all payments in full and on a timely basis, it is nevertheless important to understand the difference in possible punishments for failing to pay different kinds of obligations. In one recent case in North Florida, the First District Court of Appeal threw out a finding of contempt against an ex-husband, ruling that the payment he failed to make on time was neither child support nor alimony, so he was not subject to the trial court’s contempt powers.

In this case, a couple from the Jacksonville area, S.S. (husband) and A.S. (wife), divorced, and the trial court ordered the husband to pay the wife $343 per month in child support and $200 per month from his military pension, starting on Dec. 1, 2014. On Dec. 4, the husband wrote the wife a $343 check but also expressed his intention not to pay the remaining $200. Although the husband eventually did pay the additional $200 on Dec. 22, the wife had already filed a request with the court to find the husband in contempt. The wife argued to the trial judge that she deemed the $343 check to be the $200 sum her husband owed her plus $143 of the $343 of the child support obligation. The trial judge approved of the wife’s “election” to construe the $343 sum in the fashion that she did, and the judge held the husband in contempt for failing to pay his full child support obligation on a timely basis.

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