Fort Lauderdale, Florida Divorce Court Judge Reversed For Holding Indigent Father In Contempt For Failure To Pay Child Support

In Anderson v. Department of Revenue, the Fourth District Court of Appeals reversed a Broward County, Florida divorce court decision holding an indigent father in contempt of court for his failure to pay child support and for setting a purge of $5,000.00. Judge Alfred J. Horowitz, a divorce judge in Fort Lauderdale, Florida ordered Mr. Anderson to pay $5,000 in child support arrears within 48 hours to avoid jail time. Mr. Anderson timely appealed Judge Horowitz’s order to the Fourth District Court of Appeals because he was indigent; and therefore, would not be able to make the immediate $5,000 payment. The trial court determined that Mr. Anderson was indigent purposes of his appeal.

Mr. Anderson was in child support arrears over $50,000. Even though he owed a substantial amount of money, the Fourth District Court of Appeals held that the trial court committed reversible error in finding Mr. Anderson in contempt of court and thereafter determining that he was indigent for the purposes of the appeal. The Court reasoned that the finding of indigent status evidenced an inability to pay the $5,000.00 purge.

When a party is requesting that a court find an obligor in indirect civil contempt of court, incarceration cannot be used as a means to seek compliance with the court order when the contemnor does not have the present ability to purge himself of contempt. The contemnor must have the key to the jailhouse door.