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Contempt Actions Generally

Court orders pertaining to the divorce, such as orders concerning alimony, child support, child custody etc. may be enforced by actions for contempt. 

Generally, contempt of court refers to an action or actions that disregard or disobey an order of the court or conduct that is disrespectful toward the court. F.S. § 61.14. Florida courts have the power to enforce their orders and judgments and maintain order by virtue of their contempt power. Thus, if your former spouse or partner has failed to adhere to the court’s order regarding child support, child custody, alimony, or division of property, it is at the court’s discretion to find them in contempt of court. Id.

In Florida, all court orders pertaining to the divorce, such as orders concerning alimony, child support, equitable division of marital property, child custody and parenting time, may be enforced by actions for contempt. Id; Fla. Fam. L.R.P. Rule 12.615. Contempt actions may be brought by the injured party against the offending spouse regardless of whether the order was a final decree of the presiding judge or based on a settlement agreement between the parties.  Brown v. Brown, 68 So. 3d 964 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2d Dist. 2011); F.S. § 61.14. However, a contract or agreement between the parties that has not been made an order of the court may not be enforced via an action for contempt. See Jaffe v. Jaffe, 17 So. 3d 1251 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 5th Dist. 2009).

Courts enforce their orders through the threat of contempt sanctions or imprisonment if the offending party continues to refuse to comply with the court’s order. F.S. § 61.14. There are two types of contempt proceedings: civil and criminal. Civil contempt is neither a felony or misdemeanor, but is instead a power possessed by the court. Johnston v. State, 841 So. 2d 349 (Fla. 2002). The purpose of civil contempt actions is “to compel a party to comply with a court order or to compensate a movant for losses sustained as a result of the contemnor's conduct.” Elliott v. Bradshaw, 59 So. 3d 1182 (Fla. 4th DCA 2011).

On the other hand, the purpose of criminal contempt actions is to punish the nonpaying party when there is “evidence that they have continually and willfully neglected support obligations, or have affirmatively acted to divest themselves of assets and property.” Blechman v. Dely, 138 So. 3d 1110 (Fla. 4th DCA 2014); Aburos v. Aburos, 2010 WL 1565457 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 3d Dist. 2010). The parent cannot be committed to jail unless there is a finding  that at the time of incarceration the parent has the ability to make payment. Smith v. Miller, 451 So. 2d 945 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1st Dist. 1984).

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