Florida Court Discusses Evaluating a Party’s Ability to Pay Sanctions in an Alimony Dispute

When a couple with disparate economic resources divorces, the court will often grant the lesser earning spouse alimony. The courts make alimony determinations, in part, by assessing each party’s income. Unfortunately, some people try to avoid support obligations by underreporting their income. Courts are not bound by financial disclosures they believe are inaccurate, however, as demonstrated in a recent Florida ruling in which the court affirmed an order holding a husband in contempt for failing to provide discovery on his ability to pay support to his former wife. If you need assistance with an alimony issue, it is prudent to speak to a knowledgeable Florida divorce attorney to discuss your options.

The Facts of the Case

It is reported that in March 2014, the trial court dissolved the couple’s marriage. Pursuant to a consent agreement, the husband was obligated to pay the wife $2,600 in permanent alimony and over $1,000 per month as repayment for a personal loan. In May 2016, the wife moved to hold the husband in contempt on the grounds that he failed to pay her either the alimony or the loan payment. Prior to the hearing on the motion, they entered into a second agreement in which the husband agreed to pay a lump sum of $5,000 per month and $18,000 in arrearages in payments of $5,996 per month.

Allegedly, the wife moved for contempt for non-payment a year later, while the husband moved to modify his obligations, arguing he could not afford the payments. He also refused to comply with discovery requests regarding his income. His arrears reached $100,000, and the court sanctioned him for failing to comply with discovery. A hearing was held, after which the court determined the husband had the ability to pay support but willing refused to do so and ordered him to pay almost $30,000 in attorney’s fees and $14,500 in contempt sanctions within 60 days or face jail time. The husband appealed, arguing he lacked the ability to pay the purge amount.

Determining a Party’s Ability to Pay Sanctions

Appellate courts presume contempt orders to be correct and generally will not disturb them unless they are not supported by substantial or competent evidence of the record. A trial court has to base a contempt purge amount on a party’s current ability to pay. In evaluating a party’s ability to pay, the court is not limited to the amount of cash available but may look at all of the party’s assets from which the amount may be obtained.

In other words, the court is not limited to what is likely an under-reported income of a self-employed party, especially in cases in which the party failed to disclose financial documents that would support his assertions. The court elaborated that when a party is responsible for hindering the trial court’s ability to assess his financial situation, he waives the right to complain about the court’s reliance on information that indicated his ability to pay. Thus, the appellate court affirmed the trial court ruling.

Speak to a Seasoned Miami Attorney

Courts grant alimony to provide economically disadvantaged spouses with financial security, and when a party refuses to pay support that is owed, it can have significant consequences. If you need assistance with an alimony dispute, it is smart to speak to an attorney as soon as possible. The seasoned Miami attorneys of the Law Offices of Sandy T. Fox, P.A., can advise you of your rights and help you to seek a just outcome. Our office is in Aventura, and we regularly represent parties in family law matters in Miami. You can contact us through our form online or at 800-596-0579 to schedule a meeting.



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