Florida Man’s Non-Payment Wasn’t Alimony or Child Support, So Contempt Charge Was Inappropriate

When you go through a divorce in Florida, you may be ordered to make payments to your ex-spouse for various different reasons. While the preferred outcome is to make all payments in full and on a timely basis, it is nevertheless important to understand the difference in possible punishments for failing to pay different kinds of obligations. In one recent case in North Florida, the First District Court of Appeal threw out a finding of contempt against an ex-husband, ruling that the payment he failed to make on time was neither child support nor alimony, so he was not subject to the trial court’s contempt powers.

In this case, a couple from the Jacksonville area, S.S. (husband) and A.S. (wife), divorced, and the trial court ordered the husband to pay the wife $343 per month in child support and $200 per month from his military pension, starting on Dec. 1, 2014. On Dec. 4, the husband wrote the wife a $343 check but also expressed his intention not to pay the remaining $200. Although the husband eventually did pay the additional $200 on Dec. 22, the wife had already filed a request with the court to find the husband in contempt. The wife argued to the trial judge that she deemed the $343 check to be the $200 sum her husband owed her plus $143 of the $343 of the child support obligation. The trial judge approved of the wife’s “election” to construe the $343 sum in the fashion that she did, and the judge held the husband in contempt for failing to pay his full child support obligation on a timely basis.

The husband appealed and won. The key issue in the case, and the appeal, was how the $343 check should be classified. The law allows a court to hold a party in contempt for failing to pay a child support obligation on time. Florida law does not allows a court to hold a party in contempt for failing to make a payment as part of a property settlement. Only alimony and child support can trigger contempt citations.

In this case, the wife was not free to place any interpretation she wanted on the money she received from the husband, and the trial court was not allowed to approve an interpretation that was not reasonable. In this case, the husband paid the exact amount of his child support obligation and made that payment exactly three days after it was due. Clearly, the payment was intended to be the full amount of the father’s December child support obligation, and any other interpretation was unreasonable. By approving the wife’s unreasonable interpretation, the trial court essentially held the husband in contempt for failing to make a property settlement payment, which the law expressly prohibits.

Being found in contempt of court, whether it’s civil contempt or criminal contempt, is a big deal, and you should treat such matters with the appropriate level of care. An experienced Florida attorney can help when you find yourself improperly facing a possible contempt charge. Reach out to the diligent South Florida contempt attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. Whether you are seeking a contempt order against your spouse or facing contempt, our attorneys are equipped to help and offer you the representation you need. Contact our attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.

More blog posts:

Appeals Court Sides With South Florida Mom in Religious Upbringing Dispute, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, May 13, 2016

Florida Appeals Court Tosses Out Contempt Order Due to Violation of Husband’s Due Process Rights, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, April 13, 2016