Contempt occurs when a party has the ability to comply with a court order but willfully and intentionally refuses to comply. There are two types of contempt under Florida law; civil contempt and criminal contempt.
Criminal contempt is used to punish a party for their non-compliance with a court order. Civil contempt is used to compel a party to comply with a previously entered court order.
Civil contempt and criminal contempt have their own procedures and notice requirements that are governed by the Florida Family Law Rules of Procedure and Florida Laws of Criminal Procedure.
A party may be found in either direct civil contempt or indirect civil contempt. Direct civil contempt occurs in the direct presence of the Court i.e. in the courtroom before a judge. Upon a finding of direct civil contempt by a judge, the offender may be punished instantly by imprisonment and/or fine. Indirect civil contempt occurs outside of the presence of the judge and a party cannot be found in indirect civil contempt without providing the alleged contemnor notice of the alleged contemptuous actions and an opportunity to be heard. Additionally, the language of the order must clearly and precisely state the actions, or lack thereof, by the alleged contemnor. The alleged contemnor must clearly violate the order before he or she can be held in indirect civil contempt.
An indirect civil contempt action is started by one party filing a motion against the other; usually it is the party’s former spouse or the other parent for non-compliance of the Final Judgment or a court order. For example, suppose your former spouse or the other parent of your child is not paying Alimony or Child Support or is not complying with the parenting plan or time-sharing schedule, as ordered in your final judgment, and has the ability to do so, you may file a motion for contempt against them. The moving party then has a right to collect discovery, including financial information, from the other party as to their ability to comply with the final judgment or court order. The court can hold the non-complying party in indirect civil contempt and order him or her to purge the contempt by paying a specified amount by a specified date. The court can also order sanctions against the party, including jail time, if they do not comply with the purge provision.
Keep in mind that in an action for civil contempt there are specific procedural and notice requirements. The court may not enter an order of contempt without the alleged contemnor receiving notice and an opportunity to be heard. Contempt can be a useful tool to seek an opposing party’s compliance with your settlement agreement, final judgment or a court order. However, it is important to consult with an attorney to determine if a contempt action is appropriate as it is not an available remedy in all circumstances. For example, a party cannot be held in contempt for non-compliance with terms related to equitable distribution in a settlement agreement. The attorneys at Hertz • Sager have the knowledge and expertise to help you with any contempt issue you may have. If you need help with a contempt issue, contact us, using the online form on this site, or by calling us directly at 305.444.3323.