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You Can Hold Your Ex-Spouse in Contempt of Court for Failure to Pay Child Support but Not for Distribution of Property


By the early twentieth century, the prevailing sentiment was that debtors’ prisons do not belong in a just, democratic society.  While the idea that no one should face criminal penalties because of financial hardships beyond their control is a noble one, there are some instances where the courts can treat you like a criminal simply because of your inability to pay a financial obligation ordered by the court.  Many of these situations involve the criminal courts, such as when a defendant who has yet to face trial for criminal charges can go free if they pay bail, but has to stay behind bars until the trial if they cannot pay.  In family law cases, you have a chance to argue that your nonpayment of divorce-related obligations is not your fault; you can even have your obligations modified if the court made an error in estimating your ability to pay or your ex-spouse’s need for your support.  In some situations, holding your ex-spouse in contempt of court, which can lead to criminal penalties in extreme cases, is an option, but in other cases, it is not.  If you and your ex-spouse have reached an impasse about division of property, alimony, or child support, contact a South Florida divorce lawyer.

No Contempt of Court for Matters Related to Equitable Distribution

The Florida Constitution stipulates that it is against the law to imprison a person for nonpayment of a debt.  Division of property in a divorce is considered a debt; for example, if a couple sells their marital home, and the husband must pay the wife a share of the proceeds, the amount he must pay her counts as a debt.  She might need the help of a lawyer to get her portion of the marital property, but she cannot hold her husband in criminal contempt or have him taken to jail.  Despite that the Constitution is clear on this matter, law enforcement have taken people into custody for failure to surrender property to their ex-spouses pursuant to their divorce decrees.  Nancy Schroll had her ex-husband Stephen taken to jail over failure to give her the court-ordered share of their marital property.  He spent only a few hours in jail and successfully appealed the court’s decision to hold him in contempt.

Will Contempt of Court Help You Collect Child Support from You Ex?

According to Florida law, marital property divided in a divorce is a debt, but alimony and child support obligations are not.  If your ex doesn’t pay child support, and you can persuade the court that your ex is intentionally disobeying the child support order, the court will hold your ex in contempt.  This can lead to garnishment of wages or bank accounts.  Imprisonment is a possible, but rare, consequence of contempt of court for failure to pay child support.

Contact Us Today for Help

Holding your ex-spouse in contempt of court is not the solution when your ex does not abide by the equitable distribution agreement, but working with a family law attorney is.  Contact the Boca Raton divorce lawyers at Schwartz | White for help today.




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