Tallahassee Attorneys discuss Enforcing Marriage Settlement Agreements
In the Tallahassee and Leon County areas, most dissolution of marriage cases are resolved by agreement, rather than going before a judge to determine all issues. In fact, mediation – a process where parties meet with a trained professional who’s job it is to get people to agree – is required in nearly all cases.
But what happens if the other party doesn’t follow the agreement? What if you both don’t agree on what the order says and how to comply with it? Or maybe they just flat-out won’t do what the judge said - what can you do?
First, for many issues, a party not complying with a marriage settlement agreement that has been accepted by the Court and rendered into an order, may be in contempt of Court. A party can seek a “Motion for Contempt” against the other party and seek various remedies – usually attorney’s fees and that the Court forces the non-compliant party to do what they are required to do. Examples would include: allowing time sharing with children and providing make-up time for time lost; signing over titles to property, providing access to a piece of property or storage unit, or any other number of actions depending on your agreement or order.
A finding of “Contempt” requires that there (1) be a valid order and (2) that there’s party who is not following the order and (3) that they are doing so “willfully” or intentionally.
Sometimes, a person may not be able to follow an order. It may be impossible to complete, or sometimes the order is too vague to understand and they may not know that they are violating it. Therefore – it may not be “willful” or intentional.
Other times, the Court – despite signing off on the Order – may not have the ability to provide a remedy. The Family Law Court system can use its powers of contempt to coerce parties into action by means of admonishment (i.e. receiving some stern words and or a warning by the judge), ordering a specific action, paying attorney’s fees, or even incarceration. However, due to protections against a “debtor jail” in our state’s constitution, parties cannot be ordered to pay directly sums of money as part of contempt. In some cases, a separate civil case must be brought in the civil court – similar to when a service provider like a plumber or auto mechanic sues someone for not paying their bill – versus the family law judge ordering contempt to pay moneys. Further complicating things, sometimes a Court CAN order a party to sell something as part of the agreement – and this may not run afoul of Florida’s constitution.
As detailed above, contempt and enforcement of a marriage settlement agreement can be very complicated and confusing to those not experienced in going to Court regularly. Call our office at 800-822-5170 today to talk to one our experienced attorneys familiar with contempt and familiar with the remedies that may be available to you. Our Tallahassee attorneys are standing by to discuss with you the specifics of your case and offer a plan to help you with the relief available under Florida law. Our firm also has offices in Panama City, Fort Walton, Pensacola and Orlando and we pride ourselves on having a statewide family law practice.