Articles Posted in Contempt

It may sound surprising, but there are some instances when a party to a family law case in Florida may lose his right to have an appeal of his case even considered. That was the case recently for one Palm Beach County husband, when the 4th District Court of Appeal ordered a dismissal of his appeal of a contempt finding unless the husband achieved “substantial compliance” with the trial court’s support orders within 30 days.

The couple, Michel Whissell and Sheronne Whisell, sought a divorce in Palm Beach County. As part of that case, the trial court ordered the husband to make temporary support payments to the wife. The husband, however, did not make these support payments. On multiple occasions, the wife initiated contempt proceedings. Eventually, the husband racked up multiple contempt findings and a support arrearage in excess of $100,000.
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The protracted court case involving the medical care of a 4-year-old Palm Beach County boy took another turn recently, when the child’s mother refused to appear in court as ordered, leading Circuit Judge Jeffrey Gillen to issue a warrant for her arrest, the Sun-Sentinel reported. The case centers around the decision to perform a circumcision on the boy, which the father supports and the mother opposes. Counsel for the mother has argued that she is acting to protect her child, but the Florida courts have consistently upheld the father’s right to make the decision regarding the circumcision, as the mother voluntary relinquished this decision-making right as part of parenting plan agreement signed by the mother in 2011.

D. N. and H. H. welcomed a baby boy on Oct. 31, 2010. The parents later signed an agreed parenting order that stated that the father would handle all matters related to completing the child’s circumcision, including scheduling the appointment, transporting the child and paying for the procedure. The mother agreed to sign all necessary forms to permit the procedure to take place.
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Divorces are almost always difficult, but divorces that occur to couples with teenage children can be especially challenging. While a parent cannot control what his or her children feel or think regarding the other parent, he or she can help foster a healthy relationship by refraining from actively doing things to impede the children’s relationship with the other parent. One South Florida mother’s decision to engage in such counterproductive, hindering behavior ultimately earned her a judgment of contempt, which the 4th District Court of Appeal recently upheld.

When M. (husband) and L. (wife) divorced in 2011, they had three children together, some of whom were well into their teenage years. The couple’s divorce judgment called for shared parenting responsibility and established a timesharing schedule that placed the children primarily with their mother.
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A court’s contempt power can be an extremely important and effective tool in ensuring compliance in family law matters, as spouses may ignore court order to spite their exes. This power does come with some clearly delineated limits, though. The power to force a spouse to meet the terms of an equitable distribution is one such area, leading the 4th District Court of Appeal to throw out a trial court’s contempt finding against an ex-wife who did not pay the mortgages on the marital home.

The case regarded a 2010 divorce. As part of the equitable distribution, the wife received the marital home. The distribution also called for the wife to assume total responsibility for paying the mortgages on the home, even though the husband’s name was the only one on the mortgages. After the divorce, the wife rented the home out, but did not pay the mortgage payments.

The parties soon returned to court, with the husband seeking a contempt order against the wife for failing to keep the mortgages current. The trial court refused the husband’s request, explaining that it could not utilize its contempt powers because paying the mortgages was an aspect of equitable distribution, not spousal support. Had the wife violated a term related to support, she could have faced punishment for contempt.
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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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“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.
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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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A Miami-Dade judge has refused to recuse herself in a heated Florida custody dispute between two prominent attorneys, despite her alleged ties to the law firm representing the former wife. The spouses divorced in 2005 after seven years of marriage. At the time of their divorce, the couple reportedly agreed to share equal custody of their two sons. Since then, the ex-wife has accused the ex-husband of violating provisions in the former couple’s divorce agreement by repeatedly calling her names in emails. She has asked Judge Maria Espinosa Dennis to hold him in contempt and amend the custody agreement.

According to Florida election records, the law firm at which the former wife’s attorney is employed donated $500 to Judge Espinosa Dennis’ re-election campaign on November 15th. The day before, the firm also co-sponsored a fundraiser for Espinosa Dennis at a restaurant in South Miami. The former husband filed a motion asking Judge Espinosa Dennis to recuse herself on November 1st after invitations to the re-election fundraiser were distributed. Judge Espinosa Dennis denied his request and he appealed to Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal. He purportedly feels he will be unable to receive a fair hearing before the lower court judge.

The ex-wife’s law firm is also seeking an award of approximately $100,000 in costs and attorney’s fees against the ex-husband. Her appellate attorney has stated that the former husband’s recusal argument has no merit and is legally indefensible. According to the ex-wife’s lawyer, the ex-wife’s law firm took no substantive part in the re-election fundraiser and only attended the event. He also said that the Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee only requires a judge to analyze an attorney’s campaign involvement when faced with a recusal request. No employee at the law firm is on Judge Espinosa Dennis’ campaign committee.

Although the former husband claims Judge Espinosa Dennis had an obligation to disclose the law firm’s fundraising efforts as a possible conflict of interest, the former wife’s attorney argues that the ex-husband is merely upset with the judge’s prior rulings against him. He also alleges that the ex-husband has continued litigation for more than two years in an attempt to drain his ex-wife’s financial resources. The former husband’s attorney stated the judge’s decision to continue to preside over the case is insensitive and fails to take into account how any reasonable individual would react given the situation.

Custody arrangements in Florida are referred to as time-sharing plans. A time-sharing plan will specify the amount of time a child will spend with each parent each week. The plan will also specify where children will spend overnights and holidays. If a child’s parents are unable to agree on a time-sharing schedule, the court will set a schedule for them. A court ordered time-sharing plan will take into account statutory factors such as the child’s preference and any instances of abuse or violence. In order to modify a time-sharing plan, Florida law requires the parent seeking modification to show substantially changed circumstances.
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Last month, a Hillsborough County Circuit judge ordered the arrest of a successful Tampa area businessman, after he was found guilty of five counts of criminal contempt of court for failure to pay his child support and alimony obligations. The man reportedly failed to attend the contempt hearing where Judge Caroline Tesche sentenced him to almost six months in jail for repeatedly refusing to pay more than $6 million in alimony and child support.

The man’s ex-wife initiated divorce proceedings in 2009 and the former couple reached a final settlement agreement in July 2011. Although the couple has a 12-year-old son together, she stated her former husband has not supported them for several years. According to her attorney, the man now owes his ex-wife $10 million.

The man in this case is reportedly a decorated Vietnam veteran, a former president of a company, and previously ran a building materials business which allegedly reported profits of more than $4 million per month at its height. At one point, he reportedly owned a mansion and regularly drove several high end sports cars. Now, the man claims he is financially insolvent. In fact, he allegedly filed for bankruptcy just three days prior to the contempt hearing. Still, Judge Tesche believes the father has the ability to pay.

This man reportedly owns stock in several large companies as well as other assets. His attorney has argued that the man’s hands are tied as the former couple’s settlement agreement prohibits him from selling his stock in order to generate cash. He also claims the man is unable to liquidate any of his assets and lives off of loans and a small monthly Department of Veterans Affairs disability check.

According to the former wife, her ex-husband has the money and is merely hiding millions of dollars in assets from her. In November 2010, he spent more than two weeks in jail for refusing to produce documents during the couple’s divorce proceedings. When he filed for bankruptcy, the man reportedly estimated his assets as being in the range of $100 to $500 million and his liabilities at no more than $50 million. To further complicate the case, the Internal Revenue Service is also allegedly performing a criminal investigation into his affairs. His attorney has stated he is not aware of the man’s current location.

Each year many Florida residents find themselves in the midst of a less than amicable divorce. Understandably, the host of emotions associated with the end of a marriage can be overwhelming. The financial damage can oftentimes make a bad situation even worse. If you are contemplating divorce, you need an experienced family law attorney to help you protect your financial interests.
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The purpose of civil contempt is to obtain compliance with a child support, alimony or general court order and can only be used when the contemnor has the ability to comply.

First, your divorce lawyer in Fort Lauderdale must have the court determine whether the defaulting party has willfully violated the court order. Next, the court must determine the appropriate remedial measure. If the Florida marital and family law judge orders that the contemnor is to be jailed, the court must make a specific finding that he or she has the present ability to pay the purge.

In Aburos v Aburos, the former husband appealed an order finding him in indirect civil contempt and requiring him to be incarcerated which was entered by Miami divorce court Judge Amy Steele Donner for failing to pay the former wife alimony and child support pursuant to the Final Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage. Specifically, the former wife asked the trial court to find the former husband in contempt of court for his failure to pay $1,700 per month for permanent periodic alimony and $1,693 per month in child support.