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Contempt of Court in a Divorce Case

Monday, May 7, 2018

Florida Statute 38.23 broadly defines contempt as follows: "A refusal to obey any legal order, mandate or decree, made or given by any judge relative to any of the business of the court, after due notice thereof, is a contempt, punishable accordingly."

The wording of this statute is important. Failure to obey a legal order in Florida is not the same thing as refusing to obey a legal order in Coral Springs. To be in contempt of court means to willfully and deliberately refuse to do something that a judge has ordered in a Divorce case.

What's the difference?

To illustrate the difference between failure to obey a legal order and contempt of a legal order in a family law case, we will compare the situations of two parents seeking a divorce. Parent A has been ordered to pay a certain amount of child support each month. Parent A complies with the child support order initially, but later falls behind in payment support after losing employment. Parent A continues to pay as much child support as possible and promptly seeks legal representation to rectify the matter. In this scenario, Parent A has failed to fully obey a legal order, in this instance, the order to pay child support. However, the failure is not willful or deliberate in the eyes of the court.

In an alternative scenario, Parent B has also been ordered to pay a certain amount of child support. Parent B refuses to pay the ordered amount, having unilaterally determined that the amount is excessive. Parent B has the ability to pay the ordered amount of child support but simply refuses to pay. To circumvent the court's order to pay child support, Parent B has hidden assets, become purposefully under-employed and now works under the table. In this scenario, Parent B has willfully and deliberately disregarded a court order.

How does it play out in court?

We will now consider how these two scenarios would likely be addressed in Florida family law court. Parent A and Parent B both have Motions for Contempt pending against them.

  • Parent A's hearing is first. Evidence is introduced at the hearing which shows that Parent A was ordered to pay a certain amount of child support and failed to pay. Parent A's family lawyer introduces evidence showing that Parent A lost employment without fault and has been diligently searching for work. Evidence is also presented showing that Parent A does not has the ability to pay the court-ordered amount. The Court finds that Parent A is not in contempt.
  • Parent B's hearing is next. The Court verifies that Parent B was ordered to pay child support and failed to pay the required amount. The former spouse of Parent B presents credible evidence showing that Parent B has put all bank accounts in a paramour's name, is deliberately unemployed and receiving substantial cash payments. The Court finds that Parent B has the ability to pay child support and has willfully refused to pay. Parent B is in contempt.

The penalties available to the Court in a contempt proceeding include fines, sanctions and incarceration. Thus, Parent B has been ordered by the Court to pay all of the former spouse's attorney's fees and to pay all child support arrears within 48 hours or be incarcerated.

Failure to obey a court order is a serious matter in Coral Springs. If you find yourself unable to obey a court order, immediately consult with an attorney specializing in divorce to learn your best options for a successful outcome in Broward County court.

Child Support: Is College Tuition Payment Required?

Friday, November 11, 2016

The State of Florida does not require parents to pay for a child's college education, nor does the federal government. Still, a parent who is getting a divorce and who is concerned about the payment of future college expenses for a minor child should be prepared to raise the issue of college expenses with a Coral Springs child support lawyer early on in the proceedings.

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Payment of college expenses can be negotiated through an attorney. A parental agreement regarding college expenses can be made part of a mediation agreement or marital settlement agreement, and thereafter ratified and made part of a Final Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage.

Key Questions Related to Children's Education

Divorcing Coral Springs parents who are contemplating whether to agree to payment of future college expenses should consider the following questions:

  • What exactly is meant by the term "college expenses"? Are college expenses limited to tuition and textbooks? What about room and board, computer equipment and transportation costs? How about the costs associated with extracurricular activities? What about semesters abroad?
  • When will the payment of college expenses begin and end? Will the parent be contributing toward the cost of a bachelor's degree or will the parent be paying for college through graduate school? What if your minor child ultimately chooses to pursue a Ph.D. or post-doctoral education?
  • How will the child's college education be funded? Will both parents be funding an education savings account? Will either parent be required to take out loans to support the child's education? What contingency plan could be set up in the event that one or both parents experiences financial hardship?
  • How will the tax benefits generated as a result of either parent contributing for college expenses be allocated?
  • Where will the child be attending college? Out-of-state universities are typically more costly than in-state universities. If a minor child chooses to attend an out-of-state university, what will the financial impact be for each parent? What if your child chooses a university in a foreign country?
  • Who will be responsible for college expenses in the event that the child squanders educational benefits? If a child fails to maintain a certain grade point average, would that limit or eliminate a parental requirement to provide college funding?

In light of the issues that need to be addressed when determining whether to fund a child's college education, it is important for divorcing parents to raise these issues in advance with their child support attorneys. Your lawyers can define what level of contribution (if any) you may be able to make toward a child's college expenses. He or she will also work to protect you by ensuing that any proposed marital settlement agreement incorporates specific language setting forth what college expenses are and are not, along with date limitations on periods of contribution.

Parents pondering the future payment of college expenses should be realistic about what they can and cannot agree to. It is natural for parents to want the very best for their children in all aspects of life. Parents who are struggling with the difficult emotions that surround a divorce may be particularly vulnerable to financially unwise decision-making when it comes to future college funding. Divorcing parents should therefore discuss the matter with Coral Springs child support attorneys prior to entering into any agreement regarding payment of college expenses.

Why can’t I waive child support?

Monday, October 24, 2016

According to Florida Statute 61.29(1), "each parent has a fundamental obligation to support his or her minor or legally dependent child." Child support is a parental obligation, not a parental right. The right to be financially supported belongs to the child, not the parents. Federal and state laws therefore preclude waiver of child support. An agreement to waive a child's right to support is generally unenforceable because the child's best interests are of primary importance to the courts.

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Many parents make the mistake of believing nothing will happen to them if they stop paying child support. That couldn't be more untrue. In fact, the penalties for failure to pay as mandated by a court order are especially harsh, and could include criminal charges.

The parental obligation to support a minor or legally dependent child involves much more than just one parent paying a predetermined amount of money to the other parent. It means making sure that a child has acceptable shelter, food, clothing and healthcare. It also means that if a child is fortunate enough to have a parent with abundant means, the child should benefit from that abundance.

How 'income' is defined

When calculating the cost of child support, an experienced Coral Springs attorney will likely begin by carefully reviewing records regarding the incomes of both parents. What counts as "income" is specified in Florida Statute 61.30(2) and includes:

  • salary or wages
  • bonuses, commissions, allowances, overtime, tips, and other similar payments
  • business income from sources such as self-employment, partnership, close corporations and independent contracts
  • disability benefits
  • all workers’ compensation benefits and settlements
  • reemployment assistance or unemployment compensation
  • pension, retirement, or annuity payments
  • social Security benefits
  • spousal support
  • interest and dividends
  • rental income
  • income from royalties, trusts, or estates
  • reimbursed expenses or in kind payments
  • gains derived from dealings in property, unless the gain is nonrecurring

Each parent's contribution to healthcare expenses and daycare expenses also needs to be accounted for. The amount of time that each parent will be spending with the child also affects the final child support calculation. All of these factors need to be considered in accordance with the guidelines schedule which is set forth in Florida Statute 61.30(6).

What if both parties agree?

It is important to note that, although a child's right to child support cannot be waived, it is sometimes possible for parents to agree that neither is required to pay child support to each other. This may be the case when both parents earn similar incomes, are contributing an equal amount to healthcare and daycare expenses or are spending an equal amount of time with their minor child. In that circumstance, an experienced attorney may prepare a marital settlement agreement with clear and unmistakable language indicating that the child is being supported equally by both parents. Child support guidelines would still need to be part of such an agreement, along with language specifying that the arrangement is in the child's best interest. It would then be up to the court whether to ratify and approve agreement.

Calculating a fair and appropriate child support obligation can be surprisingly complicated. Discussing the specific details of your child support matter with a qualified Parkland attorney will assist in making decisions that benefit your child, while ensuring that you pay only what you are required to.

Why You Absolutely Must Pay Child Support

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Failure to pay child support is a very serious issue to the state of Florida, as well as the federal government. If a parent does not pay child support after being ordered to do so by a court, he or she likely will experience a number of negative consequences. The penalties for deliberately failing to pay child support are severe. Our lawyers wrote this blog to enumerate some of the possible consequences, as well as discuss a couple of options for parents who may be struggling to keep up with their child support payments.

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Penalties are Steep

Non-Payment of child support could result in:

  • A Finding of Contempt: A parent who is ordered to pay child support by a court (hereinafter referred to as the "obligor") and fails to do so may be found in contempt of court. If a court determines that the obligor has willfully failed to pay child support when he or she had the means to do so, the obligor could be subject to fines, sanctions and even jail time.
  • Driver's License Suspension: The State may suspend the obligor's driver's license and/or motor vehicle registration for non-payment of child support.
  • Professional License Suspension. The State may suspend an obligor's professional licenses and certificates for non-payment of child support. This may include, but is not limited to, the licenses or certificates necessary to practice as a certified public accountant (CPA), real estate broker, doctor, nurse, pharmacist, teacher, child care provider or collection agent.
  • Seizure of Assets. Federal income tax refunds, state lottery winnings, and unemployment compensation can all be intercepted by the government to pay child support. Bank accounts may be levied.
  • Liens. A lien can be placed on the obligor's real property or personal property, such as a boat, motor home or recreational vehicle. If the obligor attempts to sell the real or personal property, the lien becomes a potential hindrance to sale and must be paid in connection with any sale of the property.
  • Garnishment. The obligor's income may be garnished or attached to pay past-due child support.
  • Passport Denial. The United States Department of State may decline to issue or renew a passport to an obligor who is delinquent in payment of child support.

These are just some of the potential consequences of failing to pay child support. Each child support enforcement case is unique, and the government has many enforcement tools at its disposal.

What if you fall behind?

A parent who is struggling to keep up with child support payments is not without options. It is a fact of life that parents sometimes lose their jobs, get sick or struggle financially for other reasons. When parents find themselves in a temporary financial bind, they may work with their lawyer to file a motion to temporarily abate child support payments. Parents who experience a more substantial and permanent change of financial circumstances may request that their attorney file a petition to modify their child support obligation.

When child support is not paid, the consequences can be harsh. Therefore, wise parents will do everything possible to comply in good faith with any court orders, and promptly seek help from a Coral Springs child support lawyer if they fall behind in payment.

Man arrested at country club accused of owing child support

Thursday, September 11, 2014

On behalf of Stuart N. House, P.A. posted in Child Custody & Support on Wednesday, August 20, 2014.

There are many parents in Florida who would sacrifice everything for their children. In fact, the media recently covered a story about a man who chose to live in a car so he could make child support payments for his daughter. There are times when people experience a drastic change in circumstances that prevents or inhibits their ability to make such payments despite their willingness to sacrifice. On the other hand, officials have accused one out-of-state man of racking up hundreds of thousands of dollars in missed payments even though he was living a life of luxury.

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The 48-year-old man has allegedly failed to make child support payments since 1996. As a result, officials claim that he owes approximately $250,000 in past payments. He was recently arrested and has been charged with felony failure to pay child support.

The man was allegedly taken into custody after arriving at his country club in his luxury vehicle in California. He has apparently seen some success as an Internet and DVD fitness guru. Police claim that he was relatively easy to find due to his Internet presence. If convicted of the 10 charges against him, he could spend up to 15 years in prison.

In Florida child support cases, some people get distracted by peripheral issues, such as disagreements between two parents. Instead, the focus should be the best interest of the child. While it is understandable that someone may go through hardships that make it difficult to make child support payments, it is important to discuss these issues with the family court. Failure to do so could result in wage garnishment and imprisonment among other possible consequences.

Child support increased for son of Rapper, Future

Thursday, September 11, 2014

On behalf of Stuart N. House, P.A. posted in Child Custody & Support on Thursday, August 14, 2014.

There is a certain perception of what the life of a rapper might be like. Some people in Florida might believe that a successful rapper has all the money in the world, with a large house and fancy cars to go with it. However, rappers, such as Future, are not immune to legal problems, including child support issues. Future, who has four children by four different women, has been accused of hiding his true income from the court.

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The rapper and the mother of one of his children previously came to an agreement that he would pay $1,662 a month to support his child. This amount was determined based on his assertion that he made approximately $16,500 a month. However, the woman has filed new papers claiming that he was less than honest with the court.

In fact, she claims that he makes approximately $50,000 a month. As a result of the recent court activity, Future will now have to pay $2,800 each month, in addition to almost $4,000 in back payments. The new child support amount will now be garnished from his paycheck. He is reportedly still trying to come to agreements regarding support for two of his other children and their mothers.

This case shows Florida parents that anyone can experience difficulties regarding child support. However, being open and honest with the family court can help those who may legitimately be struggling with such payments. For those who may choose not to make payments, there could be serious ramifications, such as wage garnishment and even the loss of licenses. Most importantly, a parent’s relationship with his or her child could deteriorate in certain circumstances.

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