Contempt of Court in Florida Family Law Cases


In this blog, we will discuss what contempt of court is in family law cases. We will also provide examples of when a person may be found in contempt and what happens after a motion of contempt is found.  

What Is Contempt of Court?   

Contempt of court refers to any behavior that disrespects or obstructs the functioning of the court or undermines its authority. In the context of court proceedings, it is a serious offense that can lead to penalties such as fines, community service, or imprisonment.  

Difference Between Civil & Criminal Contempt 

There are two types of contempt, civil and criminal. Civil contempt typically involves non-compliance with a court order during a civil proceeding. For example, failing to pay child support or not adhering to custody orders in family law cases. The main purpose of civil contempt sanctions is to coerce the offending party into complying with the court order in question.  

On the other hand, criminal contempt is an act that obstructs the justice system’s operation, such as causing a disruption in court, disrespecting court officials, or disobeying court rules. The aim here is not to compel obedience to a court order, but rather to preserve the court's authority and dignity by punishing the contemnor. The punishment is typically a fine, imprisonment, or both. 

Grounds for Contempt of Court in Family Law  

In Florida family law cases, there are several circumstances that could be deemed as contempt of court. These generally involve failure to obey court orders directly related to the case in question. Here are a few examples: 

  • Not paying ordered child support or alimony payments. 

  • Disobeying child custody or visitation orders mandated by the court. 

  • Failing to adhere to court-ordered division of property or assets. 

  • Not following court-mandated injunctions such as restraining orders. 

  • Refusing to participate or comply with court-ordered mediation or parenting classes. 

  • Attempting to conceal assets or falsifying financial statements.  

  • Acting aggressively, disrespectfully, or in a way that disrupts the court proceedings.  

Willful vs. Non-Willful Disobedience 

In family law contempt proceedings, the court distinguishes between willful and non-willful disobedience to understand the intent behind non-compliance. Willful disobedience refers to the deliberate refusal to comply with court orders, even when the person has the ability to do so. This intentional disregard of court directives is often seen as a direct affront to the court's authority.  

Conversely, non-willful disobedience happens when an individual fails to comply with court orders, but not intentionally. This can occur due to factors beyond the individual's control, such as sudden financial hardship preventing them from making court-ordered payments. In such cases, the court often views the non-compliance with leniency, considering the individual's circumstances before deciding on penalties. 

What Happens After a Motion for Contempt Is Filed?  

In family law, a motion for contempt is a formal request to the court to punish a party for disobeying a court order. This could be an order for child support payments, spousal support, custody arrangements, or property division, among others. When a party does not comply with these orders, the other party can file a motion for contempt to seek enforcement. 

The process begins when the aggrieved party files a motion for contempt with the court that issued the original order. The motion should detail the nature of the non-compliance. After filing, the motion must be served to the opposing party, providing them with an opportunity to respond. 

The court then schedules a hearing where both parties present their arguments. Proving contempt of court requires clear and convincing evidence that the respondent has willfully violated a court order. 

Direct evidence is the most straightforward way to prove contempt. This could include bank statements or other financial records that demonstrate a failure to pay child or spousal support. In cases involving custody or visitation orders, direct evidence might consist of text messages or emails where the respondent admits to non-compliance. 

Witness testimonies can also be a potent source of evidence. For example, a third party who witnessed the respondent refusing to allow the petitioner their court-ordered visitation rights could provide a compelling testimony. The credibility of the witness is crucial here, as the court will consider their relationship to the parties and any potential bias. 

Being held in contempt of court can have severe consequences. Besides the potential for fines and jail time, it can significantly affect future proceedings. For instance, a history of contempt could influence a judge's decision in future custody or visitation disputes. 

Tips to Avoid Contempt 

To avoid being held in contempt, parties should make every effort to abide by court orders. If a situation arises where compliance is impossible, they should communicate this to the court and seek a modification of the order. Legal counsel can provide valuable advice on how to navigate these complex situations. 

Experienced Family Law Attorney 

If your ex-spouse or co-parent is failing to follow court-ordered mandates, the Law Office of Jody L. Fisher can help you file a motion of contempt. With decades of experience, our firm can work diligently to ensure your divorce, child support, or child custody orders are honored.  

Schedule an initial consultation today by calling (352) 503-4111.  

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