Civil Contempt of Court in Florida

March 16, 2015

Heather Hironimus, the mother whose fight with her former partner, Dennis Nebus, over the circumcision of their son has been widely reported, is  facing arrest for contempt of court.  Hironimus and Nebus were never married, but share custody of their four year old son. Their parenting plan specifies that the child will be circumcised, though he has not yet undergone the procedure. Hironimus later changed her mind, beginning a lengthy court battle.

Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Jeffrey Dana Gillen found Hironimus in contempt of court when she willfully violated the parenting plan in failing to permit the circumcision. Judge Gillen issued a warning that Hironimus may face jail time if she and the child did not appear at a scheduled hearing. Hironimus has fled with her son, and her attorney says that they are staying at a domestic violence shelter because her son is afraid of the procedure.

Contempt of Court

In Florida, parents who share custody of a child must have a court-approved parenting plan, outlining time-sharing and other custody issues regarding the child. When the parenting plan is approved, the court issues an order enforcing the plan. Court orders to enforce alimony or child support payments are also common in domestic relations cases.

When a judge makes an order, such as for child custody, child support, or alimony, disobeying that order can have serious consequences. Judges have several options for the enforcement of these orders, including finding the noncompliant party in contempt of court. Contempt means the refusal to obey a judge’s orders. There are two types of contempt: civil and criminal.

Civil Contempt

Civil contempt of court is used when a judge issues an order and the party is able to comply, but does not. For example, if a father is ordered to pay child support, but refuses, he may be held in contempt. However, if the father was not paying child support because he lost his job and so no longer had any income or ability to keep up support payments, he would not be held in contempt. The purpose of civil contempt is to encourage a noncompliant party to comply with the court’s order.

Civil contempt proceedings are initiated by the party who wants to enforce compliance with the court order. A party may initiate contempt proceedings to enforce a court order by filing a  Motion for Civil Contempt and Enforcement. There will then be a hearing at which the initiating party must produce evidence and testimony to show that the other party has not complied with the court order. If noncompliance is sufficiently proven, the judge will find the noncompliant party to be in contempt.

Purge Provision

Civil contempt orders are required to include a “ purge provision.” A purge provision states that, by carrying out a certain action, a person may be purged of contempt and avoid further punishment. For example, a contempt order resulting from the nonpayment of child support may state that contempt may be purged if the noncompliant party pays past-due support.

Consequences

If the court finds a party to be in civil contempt of court, the sanctions can be serious. They can include jail time; payment of attorneys’ fees, suit money, or costs; fines; or other methods of relief.

If you are having difficulty getting an ex-spouse or co-parent to comply with a court order such as a parenting plan or an order for support payments, an experienced family law attorney can advise you on the best method to pursue to encourage compliance. Please contact  West Palm Beach family law attorney William Wallshein for a free initial consultation.