Articles Posted in Indirect Criminal

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.

Contempt of court is an important provision of the law. It allows judges to punish and disincentivize parties from hindering the administration of justice. This may be especially relevant in family law cases where people, who would otherwise never think of defying a judge, do so, not so much due to their contempt for the court, but their contempt for their ex-spouses. Contempt is a serious matter and the law requires judges to go through several mandatory steps before they find parties in contempt. Failure to clear each of those procedural hoops can lead to an appellate court’s reversal of a contempt finding, as was the case in the recent decision in Wilcoxon v. Moller.

A couple reached a divorce settlement agreement in 2009 that laid out several terms regarding the couple’s two children, including health insurance, the children’s extracurricular activities and communication regarding shared parenting responsibilities. The parties agreed to maintain accounts on a subscription-based website in order to facilitate their communications. After a motion by the husband, the trial court found the wife in contempt by virtue or her having allowed her subscription to the website to lapse, failing to transport the children to extracurricular activities and failing to provide the husband with copies of the children’s health insurance cards.

The 4th District Court of Appeal overturned the contempt ruling. The appellate court did so because the trial court did not follow several necessary steps. Before a court can find a person in contempt, the court must have created an underlying order that was clear enough to put the parties on notice that the court was ordering them to do (or refrain from) certain actions.
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A Fisher Island man was recently ordered to serve 180 days in jail after he reportedly allowed his 16-year-old son to marry the 18-year-old daughter of his housekeeper in an effort to remove the child from family court oversight. The 65-year-old father was charged with contempt of court and placed in the Miami-Dade Jail for allegedly taking his teenage son to Las Vegas the day after he turned 16 and providing him with consent to marry. The father allegedly did so after a Miami-Dade judge instructed the wealthy businessman to immediately place the child in a Utah boarding school for troubled teens. The boy was ordered to attend the school in November 2010 at the request of his father’s former wife. The teen’s mother, who was awarded joint custody of the boy when the couple split, reportedly asked the family court to place her son in the Utah school on the advice of an educational expert after he was arrested for striking a police officer.

Because the teen is now emancipated, the family court no longer has jurisdiction over him. Instead, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Stanford Blake quizzed the father regarding the unexpected wedding. According to a hearing transcript, the boy was living in his father’s penthouse on Fisher Island immediately following the wedding. Meanwhile, the teen’s bride remained in Miami. Because the State of Nevada only requires the signature of one parent when a minor seeks to marry, the man reportedly allowed the boy to marry without his former spouse’s knowledge or consent.

At the father’s contempt hearing, his attorney told the court the Utah school declined to accept the boy due to his parents’ ongoing divorce. Despite the school’s rejection of the teen, Judge John Schlesinger stated the marriage was an obvious attempt to thwart the court’s order and keep the boy out of the school. Judge Schlesinger also said the man’s conduct was unacceptable and a clear example of indirect contempt of court. He is reportedly appealing his case to Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal.

Many Florida parents find themselves in the midst of a less than amicable divorce every year. Understandably, the host of emotions that are normally associated with the end of a marriage can be overwhelming. If you are considering divorce, you need a dedicated Florida family law attorney to help you protect your interests and those of your children.
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In a Fort Lauderdale divorce case, you may ask your Broward divorce attorney to enforce a court order or judgment. In many instances, enforcement is sought when a spouse does not pay alimony or child support. Your Florida marital and family law lawyer may also seek enforcement if your spouse does not comply with child custody orders or pay your attorney’s fees and costs. Contempt of court is a mechanism that can be used to coerce compliance or even punish for non-compliance with a court order or judgment.

In Berlow v Berlow, the Third District Court of Appeal reversed a decision of the Miami-Dade divorce court that found the former husband in contempt of court for failing to provide the former wife with an irrevocable term life insurance policy. The parties divorced in 1994. In 2006, the former husband agreed to obtain a $1,000,000 irrevocable term life insurance policy naming the former wife as the beneficiary within 90 days.

At the Miami divorce hearing, the trial court found that the former husband willfully disregarded the prior court order and ordered the former husband to pay a $5,000 fine to the Miami-Dade County Fine and Forfeiture Fund within thirty days and to provide the required life insurance policy to the former wife. However, the contempt order did not contain a purge provision.

In Fiore v. Atheneos, the Fourth District Court of Appeals in West Palm Beach reversed a divorce judge who presides north of Broward County who held a mother in direct criminal contempt of court for her failure to execute her children’s passport applications. Judge Moses Baker, Jr. ordered the mother to complete the passport applications which the father had previously provided to her to execute and return. When the mother failed to comply, the Florida divorce judge treated her conduct as direct criminal contempt of court. However, on appeal, the Fourth District explains that the trial court was in error.

The court can hold a person in indirect criminal contempt, when the contemptuous conduct occurs outside of the judge’s presence. To hold a person in indirect criminal contempt first, the judge, based on his own motion or the affidavit of a person with knowledge of the contempt, issues and signs an order directed to the defendant stating the essential facts constituting the criminal contempt and directing the defendant to appear before the court. The order shall specify the time and place for the hearing on the charge of contempt and shall allow the defendant reasonable time to prepare for his or her defense

To hold a person in direct criminal contempt, the contemptuous conduct must occur in the presence of the court, in front of the judge. A judge must recite to the defendant the essential, or specific, facts upon which the court is holding the person in contempt. Second, the judge must allow the person an opportunity to explain to the court why he should not be adjudged guilty for his actions.