Written by: Lenorae Atter, Attorney at Law
In Florida, when the court enters an order regarding a divorce, child support, paternity, or other matter, then the court is telling the parties what they must do. If one of the parties is not doing what was previously ordered by the court, then the other party may file a Motion for Contempt, which means that she/he is asking the court to hold the offending party in contempt of court. Contempt of court basically means that a party has willfully and voluntarily not complied with the court’s orders. So, a motion for contempt is a way for the court to enforce the prior orders by punishing the offending party if she/he is held in contempt.
How does this work? If Mary and Frank have a paternity case and the judge entered an order that Frank will pay Mary $500 per month in child support, then Frank must pay $500 per month in child support. If Frank has a job and an ability to pay $500 per month and he chooses not to pay, then Mary may file a Motion for Contempt action against Frank. Mary would state in the motion what the prior order required and what Frank has not done. If Mary paid an attorney to file the action, then she may ask that Frank also pay for her lawyer fees since his actions are the only reason she had to hire a lawyer. Mary may also state that since Frank is voluntarily not paying child support that he should be put in jail.
When the judge ears Mary’s motion, Mary must inform the court of the situation and Frank has to prove that he cannot afford child support. Mary may show evidence to the judge that Frank is working and that he can pay, but is choosing not to. If Mary is successful, the judge may find that Frank is in contempt of court and the judge, if she/he believes Frank is acting voluntarily, may require Frank to go to jail for a set period of time or pay the amount of prior owned child support plus attorney fees. If Frank is successful, then the judge may determine the arrearage and impose that on top of Frank’s prior child support obligation. If Frank had not paid in two months, then he owes $1,000 in arrearage and he may have to pay $500 plus an amount towards the arrearage.
These issues do not only go to child support, but may include withholding the child from the other parent for time-sharing, disparaging the parent to the child, not paying alimony, or any other provision of an order. If you have such a situation, then it would be wise to contact an experienced family law attorney to find out your rights and options regarding having the prior order enforced. Not only can it provide immediately relief to the situation, but it also will help in establishing a record of behavior if a modification is ever needed.