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Circuit Court Appeal Challenges Contempt & Fees

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The First District Court of Appeals recently made a decision in a post-divorce case involving support fees and a finding of contempt. In this case, a former husband was sued by his former wife for failing to pay the full amount of support under their court judgment. He originally paid his child support obligation in the amount of $343.64, three days after it was due, and refused to pay the remaining $200.00 from his military retirement pay. The wife then filed a motion for contempt, and the former husband was found guilty. The husband later paid the $200.00, and later challenged the contempt and the award of fees. The Court affirmed the award of fees, but decided to reverse the finding of contempt.

The Court reversed the contempt finding because contempt for unpaid debt is only proper if the debt is child support or alimony. Therefore, it is an abuse of discretion to hold a person in contempt of court for failing to comply with the property-settlement provision of a final divorce judgment.

As for the fee issue, the Court found that the original order unduly focused on a single large-sum check the former husband received just before the trial without fully considering the financial circumstances of each party. While evidence did suggest that both parties would be left with roughly the same financial footing, or even that the former wife would be slightly better off, the lack of transcripts of the evidentiary hearings in which the former couple’s finances were litigated did not provide the court with sufficient evidence to resolve the fee dispute.

Questions about post-divorce support payments? Make an appointment with a Jacksonville divorce lawyer at Owenby Law, P.A.. Our office can be reached at (904) 770-3141.