When the Florida Appellate Courts Won’t Hear Your Family Law Case

It may sound surprising, but there are some instances when a party to a family law case in Florida may lose his right to have an appeal of his case even considered. That was the case recently for one Palm Beach County husband, when the 4th District Court of Appeal ordered a dismissal of his appeal of a contempt finding unless the husband achieved “substantial compliance” with the trial court’s support orders within 30 days.

The couple, Michel Whissell and Sheronne Whisell, sought a divorce in Palm Beach County. As part of that case, the trial court ordered the husband to make temporary support payments to the wife. The husband, however, did not make these support payments. On multiple occasions, the wife initiated contempt proceedings. Eventually, the husband racked up multiple contempt findings and a support arrearage in excess of $100,000.

The husband sought to appeal the most recent contempt finding, with the wife arguing that the appeals court should refuse even to consider the husband’s arguments because of his failure to make the court-ordered spousal support payments.

The appeals court agreed with the wife. Back in 1977, the Florida Supreme Court issued a ruling outlining the parameters under which appellate courts can refuse to hear appeals of noncompliant parties in family law cases. In that decision, the court stated that the appeals court may dismiss the appeal of a party in contempt, but it is not required to do so. If, however, the appeals court decides that it favors dismissal, it must, before throwing out the appeal, give the “disobedient” party a “period of grace,” or window of time prior to dismissal, to comply with the lower court’s order. If he does so, his appeal may proceed.

The rule changes, though, if the spouse launching the appeal has fled the state. That was the scenario in a 1987 Miami-Dade case, Rodriguez v. Rodriguez. In that contest, the father was more than $33,000 behind in child support and was facing six months in jail unless he paid a purge amount of at least $7,500. Instead of choosing any of the available options, the father absconded. In that circumstance, “a grace period is not necessary, and the dismissal may be immediate.”

In Whissell’s case, the husband had received “four findings of contempt and three writs of bodily attachment.” He’d already spent time in jail for his failure to pay the support, and he had only gotten out of jail by paying a small fraction of his arrearage and promising the trial judge he’d pay the rest (when, in fact, he made no more payments once leaving jail). As a result, the court gave the husband 30 days to pay enough of the arrearage for the trial judge to deem him in “substantial compliance,” or else his appeal would be dismissed.

In a divorce case, spousal support can be a highly significant element of the ultimate outcome. Whether you or your spouse is seeking support payments, it is very important to have experienced counsel on your side. Talk to the South Florida family law attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A., where our hardworking attorneys can advise you on the law and your case, and give you the reliable representation you need.

Contact us online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule a confidential consultation.

More blog posts:

Court Can’t Use Contempt Powers on Wife Who Didn’t Pay the Mortgage, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Feb. 19, 2014
Contempt Proceedings and Florida Family Law Disputes, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Jan. 28, 2014