“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.