In Florida, a defendant cannot be held in contempt for failing to pay debts not related to support. Property division awards are not enforceable by contempt; instead, they are treated as creditor-debtor issues. Default interest payments on equitable distribution awards, which are nonsupport-related debts, also cannot be enforced by contempt.

Florida family law rules permit trial courts to use contempt powers to enforce orders requiring a person to perform an act other than paying money, such as signing a title, deed, or other transfer documents like a mortgage. When the act in question does not involve payment, the court may use contempt to enforce property division awards.

Emergency ex-parte motions for child pick-up orders are generally disfavored unless there is a true emergency, such as a threat of physical harm to the child or the child being improperly removed from the state. Visitation disputes alone rarely qualify as emergencies.

Definition and Types of Contempt

Contempt is defined as a refusal to obey any legal order, mandate, or decree given by a judge, or any act that embarrasses, hinders, or obstructs the court’s administration of justice or diminishes its authority or dignity.

Direct Contempt: Contemptuous acts committed in the immediate presence of the court.

Indirect Contempt: Acts committed outside the presence of the court. Any doubt about whether contempt is direct or indirect should favor the contemnor.

Contempt can be classified as civil or criminal:

Criminal Contempt: Punitive and involves conduct intended to embarrass, hinder, or obstruct the administration of justice, used to vindicate the court’s authority and punish the offender.

Civil Contempt: Remedial, aimed at coercing compliance with a court order rather than punishing the offending party.

Understanding these aspects of attorney’s fees and contempt actions is crucial for navigating family law proceedings in Florida. By ensuring both parties have access to competent legal representation and appropriately using contempt powers, the court system strives to maintain fairness and justice.

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