Court Can’t Use Contempt Powers on Wife Who Didn’t Pay the Mortgage

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.

The court did decide, though, to order the wife use the rental income from the home to pay the mortgages. The wife did not, and the husband again returned to court, asking the trial court to find her in contempt and to appoint a receiver to collect the rental payments from the house tenants. the court granted both aspects of the husband’s motion.

On appeal, the 4th DCA reversed the contempt finding. The appellate court rejected the husband’s argument that the trial court found the wife in contempt for failure to perform an act (paying the mortgages with the rental income,) which would have been an appropriate use of the court’s contempt powers. Instead, the appellate court concluded that the wife’s non-performance was a breach of the divorce property settlement, for which the court’s contempt powers are inapplicable.

The 4th DCA also threw out the appointment of the receiver. Under Florida law, a person seeking appointment of a receiver must have some legal right to the underlying piece of property. Once the divorce became final, the marital home became the sole property of the wife. As a result, the husband had no ownership claim to the home and no legal standing to ask the court to appoint a receiver to collect rent payments from the tenants renting the home.

Formulating a workable divorce requires many things. One of the largest pieces in many divorces is creating an equitable distribution that is fair for both parties. If you are in the midst of a divorce, do not go it alone as you try to hammer out a property settlement. Call the South Florida family law attorneys of Sandy T. Fox, P.A. They can give you the honest and skilled advice, along with determined representation, you need to obtain a fair outcome in your divorce.

Contact us online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Contempt Proceedings and Florida Family Law Disputes, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Jan. 28, 2014
401(k) Loan Used During Marriage Must Be Equitably Divided in Property Distribution, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Oct. 11, 2013