What to Expect at a Hearing for Contempt regarding Child Support or Alimony
If you get behind on child support or alimony payments, you may be facing a motion for contempt. This can be a problem unless you can show good cause for why the payments have not been made. In most cases, if you have a reasonable and satisfactory explanation for why you have not paid, the court may simply issue a warning. However, if you do not have a good reason for the non-payment the consequences can be much more severe and you may be facing jail time. If your financial circumstances have changed, the proper way to handle that is by petitioning the court for a reduction, not by ceasing payments. What does the law say? Florida Statute 61.14 governs Enforcement and Modification of support and alimony. If you are the recipient of Alimony or Child Support and the person paying is behind on payments, a motion can be filed on your behalf to enforce the existing order.
Modification of Child Support or Alimony
If a party applies for a reduction of alimony or child support and the circumstances justify the reduction, the court may make the reduction of alimony or child support regardless of whether or not the party applying for it has fully paid the accrued obligations to the other party at the time of the application or at the time of the order of modification. Florida Statutes s. 61.14(4). When a court enters an order for the payment of alimony or child support or both, the court shall make a finding of the obligor’s imputed or actual present ability to comply with the order. If the obligor subsequently fails to pay alimony or support and a contempt hearing is held, the original order of the court creates a presumption that the obligor has the present ability to pay the alimony or support and to purge himself or herself from the contempt. Florida Statutes s. 61.14(5)(a).
At The Contempt Hearing
At the contempt hearing, the obligor shall have the burden of proof to show that he or she lacks the ability to purge himself or herself from the contempt. This presumption is adopted as a presumption under Florida Statutes s. 90.302(2) to implement the public policy of this state that children shall be maintained from the resources of their parents and as provided for in Florida Statutes s. 409.2551, and that spouses be maintained as provided for in Florida Statutes s. 61.08. The court shall state in its order the reasons for granting or denying the contempt.
Possible Sanctions if found in Contempt
If the court grants the motion for contempt the court may impose sanctions to get the delinquent party to comply. These sanctions include incarceration (jail), attorney’s fees, suit money and costs, compensatory or coercive fines, and any other coercive sanction or relief permitted by law.
In a proceeding in circuit court to enforce a support order, if the court finds that payments due under the support order are delinquent or overdue and that the obligor is unemployed, underemployed, or has no income but is able to work or participate in job training, the court may order the obligor to:
- Seek employment.
- File periodic reports with the court, or with the department for Title IV-D cases, detailing the obligor’s efforts to seek and obtain employment during the reporting period.
- Notify the court or the department, upon obtaining employment, income, or property.
- Participate in job training, job placement, work experience, or other work programs that may be available pursuant to Florida Statutes Chapter 445, Florida Statutes Chapter 446, or any other source.
An obligor who willfully fails to comply with a court order to seek work or participate in other work-related activities may be held in contempt of court.
If the court orders jail/incarceration, a coercive fine, or some other type of coercive sanction, the court must set conditions to “purge” the contempt. These conditions will be based on the person’s present ability to comply. The court may grant a reasonable amount of time to comply with the purge.
When the court finds that civil contempt of court is not effective in resolving the violation of the court order, indirect criminal contempt may be found. The purpose of this type of contempt is to punish the person in non-compliance by jail, a fine, fees, costs, or other appropriate sanctions. The rules of criminal procedure apply to this type of contempt, which also means that the person has a right to counsel and the facts must be proven beyond reasonable doubt. There will be a hearing to “show cause” and at that hearing, the Judge decides the facts and whether or not the person is guilty or not guilty. If guilty, the Judge will also determine the appropriate sentence. The Defendant must be afforded the opportunity to present mitigating evidence.