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Requirements & Procedure

To prevail in a contempt action, there are three main elements that a party must show:

  1. The initiating party must have proper standing to enforce the court’s order through a contempt action. This means that the party initiating the action for contempt must be the former spouse or parent awarded the child support, alimony, division of property, child custody or other award. Fla. Fam. L.R.P. Rule 12.615; F.S. § 61.14.
  2. The initiating party must show that the offending party has failed to comply with the court’s order. The Initiating party will generally prove this by showing that the offending party had an obligation to follow the court order and did not fulfill their obligation. Herrera v. Sanchez, 885 So. 2d 480 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 5th Dist. 2004).
  3. It must be shown that the offending party’s failure to comply was willful. The Initiating party will generally prove this by showing that the offending party had the means to fulfill his or her obligation but willingly chose not to. For example, if a party voluntarily quits their job and has been unwilling to search for other employment, this may mean that the offending party’s failure to comply was willful.

Procedure

Similar to how a divorce complaint is served, a party must initiate an action for contempt by serving the offending party with the motion for contempt personally. Fla. Fam. L.R.P. Rule 12.615. A defendant or respondent in an action for contempt is entitled to reasonable notice of any hearing on the motion for contempt and an opportunity to be heard at that hearing. Department of Revenue ex rel. Northern v. Coley, App. 2 Dist., 834 So.2d 418 (2003). Essentially, this means that the offending party must have an opportunity to defend himself.

Once a party has been served with a motion for contempt, they have twenty (20) days to answer or respond to the motion. Upon responding to a motion for contempt, a defendant may either assert a defense or purge the contempt by complying with the court’s order and paying any past due support obligations. Generally in their defense, the obligated party must demonstrate that following the original divorce order, there have been circumstances outside their control that intervened with their ability to pay, and thus can no longer feasibly comply with the court order. The purpose of this defense is to show that their nonpayment of child support was not willful. Register v. Pita, 546 So. 2d 1162 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1st Dist. 1989).

If the offending party complies with the court order, they will effectively absolve themself of the contempt citation. Fla. Fam. L.R.P. Rule 12.615(e). Alternatively, if the defendant in the contempt action chooses to present a defense, they must ultimately show that either there was no failure to comply with the order or that any non compliance was not willful. See Register, supra; Fla R. Crim. P. Rule 3.830. Contempt actions are often complex matters that involve both parties putting forth evidence to prove their case. Obtaining this evidence often involves undergoing the discovery process and enlisting the aid of experts for analysis and testimony.

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