Family law cases can arise from a variety of origins. Unfortunately, one of these bases for filing, especially in contempt matters, is vindictiveness against one’s “ex.” A 2d District Court of Appeal decision recently upheld a Sarasota trial court’s refusal to hold a mother in contempt. Even though the father proved the mother’s violation of the couple’s timesharing plan, the trial court was free not to hold the mother in contempt, which it did in order to discourage more “vindictive and vexatious” actions between these parents. This case is very instructive regarding what options judges have in contempt cases and in dealing with spouses or parents who use the court system to “get back” at their former partners.
The case centered on the family of Steven Brooks and Kimberlee Brooks, who divorced in 2011 after 17 years of marriage. The couple had three children who resided predominantly with their mother. The father received every other weekend. The couple’s timesharing plan required each parent to provide the other with 30 days advance notice and a detailed itinerary in any cases of trips that spanned outside Florida.
Sometime after the divorce, the father relocated from Sarasota County to Broward County. The husband returned to court in Sarasota to ask the court to hold the mother in contempt. Allegedly, the mother took the children on two out-of-state trips and, on one of them, did not comply with the timesharing plan’s notice and itinerary rules. The wife, in return, argued that the court should hold the father in contempt for failing to file a petition to relocate prior to moving to South Florida.
The trial court found neither parent in contempt but ordered the father to file the relocation paperwork required by Section 61.13001 of the Florida Statutes.
The father appealed, but he did not prevail. Given that the father clearly proved that the mother violated the timesharing plan, this may seem like a surprising outcome. The key is, as the appeals court stated, the difference between mandatory and optional. Florida law gives trial courts the option to hold a parent in contempt if she violates a timesharing plan, but it does not demand it in all instances of plan violations. The trial judge could refrain from finding the mother in contempt if she deemed it proper and just.
That’s what happened in this instance, with the trial judge ruling as she did in order to discourage future instances of either parent using the litigation process as a “vindictive and vexatious” means for attacking the other parent. Finding either parent in contempt in this case might serve to provide more motivation for similar litigation actions between these parents in the future.
Additionally, the father lost his argument that he should be excused from filing relocation paperwork because the mother was the primary residential parent. The appeals court determined that, when the Florida Legislature overhauled the timesharing statutes in 2008, it moved Florida away from the concepts of “primary residential” and “non-primary” parents. As a result, either parent who had timesharing with the child was, in the court’s opinion, required to ask for court permission in order to relocate.
Sometimes people use family litigation for necessary reasons, and sometimes it is for spite. If you are facing a vindictive former spouse in a family litigation case, you need experienced legal counsel on your side. For skilled and determined representation in your timesharing or other family law contempt case, consult the South Florida family law attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. Our hardworking attorneys can help you defend your rights.
Contact us online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule a confidential consultation.
More blog posts:
Father’s Failure to Return Daughter to Florida on Time Allows for Alteration of Parenting Plan, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Feb. 18, 2015
Mother Declared in Contempt for Impeding Sons’ Relationship with Father, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Dec. 3, 2014