Court Explain Grounds for Contempt Findings in Florida Family Law Cases

Co-parents frequently disagree as to how parental rights and obligations should be divided. Thus, the courts will typically issue orders delineating each parent’s duties. If a party fails to uphold the terms of a child custody or support order, they may be found in contempt. As discussed in a recent Florida child support case, however, the courts generally will not hold a party in contempt unless they find they willfully disregarded a court order. If you are involved in a dispute over child support, it is smart to talk to a Miami child support lawyer about your options.

Facts and Procedural History

It is reported that in 2017, a magistrate entered a report and recommendations to establish paternity and parental responsibility for a minor child, including a parenting plan and child support obligations. Among other things, the plan required the father to pay 70% of the child’s educational expenses and 50% of the cost of the child’s extracurricular activities. In 2018, the mother filed a motion for contempt and enforcement, alleging that the father failed to pay extracurricular expenses and private school tuition. The parties returned to court in 2019, and the magistrate determined that the father was not obligated to pay for private school tuition as an “educational” expense and that the father was not in contempt for extracurricular activity expenses. The mother dismissed her objections to the magistrate’s report and recommendations.

Allegedly, in 2020, the mother filed an amended motion for contempt, alleging that the father failed to pay child support and various expenses owed under the original final judgment and a subsequent stipulated order. Specifically, the mother alleged that the father was in contempt for failing to pay 70% of the tutoring expenses. The trial court conducted a hearing where it was established that the tutoring was provided by a privately-owned tutoring company that offered after-school educational programs. The court found the father in contempt for failing to pay his share of tutoring expenses, which the court concluded were educational expenses. The court also ordered the father to pay for the mother’s attorney’s fees and costs. The father appealed.

Grounds for Finding Contempt in Family Court Actions

On appeal, the father argued that he should not have been held in contempt for failing to pay 70% of the tutoring expenses, which the trial court deemed “educational” in nature. The court ultimately agreed with the father and reversed the finding of willful contempt. In doing so, the court stated that in order for a person to be held in contempt for violating a court order, the order must be precise and clear. Further, the conduct in question must plainly violate the order. In the subject case, the court found that there was ambiguity surrounding the definition of “educational expenses” and the nature of tutoring expenses. Thus, the court reversed the trial court ruling and remanded for further proceedings.

Consult a Skilled Miami Attorney

Under Florida law, all parents have a duty to provide financial support for their children, and if a party willfully ignores a child support order, they may be found in contempt. If you have concerns about your rights or duties with regard to child support, it is smart to consult an attorney as soon as possible. The skilled Miami lawyers of the Law Offices of Sandy T. Fox, P.A. are proficient at handling complicated support actions, and if you hire us, we will advocate aggressively on your behalf. We have an office in Aventura, and we frequently represent parties in child support cases in Miami. You can contact us through our online form or at 800-596-0579 to set up a conference.