Florida Court Discusses Contempt Penalties in Child Support Cases

In divorce actions involving children, it is not uncommon for the parties to come to an agreement regarding custody and child support. In most instances, such agreements are enforceable, and a party that fails to abide by the terms of their agreement may be held in contempt. As discussed in a recent Florida case in which the court affirmed a contempt ruling against a party that paid child support via unauthorized means, strict compliance is often required. If you are considering filing for divorce and you have minor children, you should consult a Miami child support attorney to determine your potential rights and obligations.

Case Background

It is alleged that the husband and the wife divorced; during their dissolution proceedings, they entered into a settlement agreement that required the husband to channel his child support payments through the state disbursement unit. However, following a motion for contempt and enforcement by the wife, a court order decreed that the husband would only receive credit for payments made through the disbursement unit.

It is reported that despite this, the husband persisted in making direct payments directly to his ex-spouse. This recalcitrant behavior prompted another motion for contempt/enforcement by the wife, culminating in a subsequent order that denied the husband credit for the direct payments and imposed a $33,000 purge. The husband then appealed.

Contempt Penalties in Child Support Cases

On appeal, the court expressed reservations about the trial court’s authority to fashion such a punishment, emphasizing that judicial powers have boundaries. The court noted that a remedy should be logically connected to the wrongdoing it aims to rectify.

To illustrate these limitations, the court delved into the “History of the Judiciary’s Inherent Powers,” asserting that these powers are not boundless. It cited two fundamental principles established by the United States Supreme Court: first, an inherent power must constitute a reasonable response to the challenges facing the fair administration of justice, and second, it must not conflict with any explicit grants or restrictions found in rules or statutes.

In simpler terms, the punishment should be proportionate to the offense committed. In this particular case, both the terms of the original order and the husband’s deliberate non-compliance were unequivocal. Despite this, the court found the trial court’s remedy—a demand for an additional $33,000 payment through the disbursement unit, in addition to the $33,000 already received by the former wife directly—troubling. The court argued that ordering repayment of child support and alimony in these circumstances did not constitute a “reasonable response” to the issue at hand. Although the court approached the brink of overturning the decision, it ultimately declined to do so and reluctantly affirmed the lower court’s decision.

Meet with a Seasoned Miami Attorney

Florida law dictates that all parents have an obligation to provide for their children financially, which in some divorce actions means that the courts will order one party to pay the other child support. If you have questions about how the decision to end your marriage may impact your financial obligations, you should meet with an attorney as soon as possible. The seasoned Miami family law lawyers of the Law Offices of Sandy T. Fox, P.A. can inform you of your options and assist you in seeking an outcome that benefits you and your child. You can contact us through our online form or at 800-596-0579 to set up a conference.