How Do I Enforce My Judgment?
Trying to enforce a court order (Judgment) can be frustrating. The same is true when an order is being enforced against you.
To enforce an order, there first must be something to enforce. In Sarasota family law cases that “something” usually is a temporary order, or final judgment.
When it comes to enforcing family law orders, I like to divide court orders into two two big categories: orders that can be enforce through “contempt of court” and orders that can’t.
If court powers were like superheroes, then contempt of court is the Incredible Hulk of remedies. Why? Because if the court continues to find a person in willful contempt, the court can put that person in jail, until he or she solves the problem. (“Purge contempt”). Willful contempt means that if the person really wanted to, he or she could comply with the court order.
Orders That Can Be Enforced Through Contempt of Court
There are four types of Sarasota family law orders that can be enforced through contempt of court: Child Support; Alimony; Parenting Plans; and Specific Actions.
1. Child Support. Sometimes a client will want to hire a private attorney when enforcing child support. However, in many cases I refer clients to the Florida Department of Revenue (“Department”) for enforcement.
Enforcing child support through the Department is “free” and the Department has several remedies available to it besides bringing a contempt of court action in Sarasota County Circuit Court. For example, the Department can intercept federal income taxes; suspend a driver’s license; and suspend business/professional licenses. For a more complete list full list of the enforcement actions the Department can take, I am provided the following link:
Florida Department of Revenue Child Support Enforcement
I also am providing a link to the telephone, address, and directions for the Department’s Sarasota Florida office:
Florida Department or Revenue Child Support – Sarasota, Florida Office
On the other hand, if you are the person that owes child support, it can feel like the weight of the world is against you. Hiring a private attorney is often your only option. One defense to payment is impossibility. So, if you owe more child support than you can pay, you may need to work out a payment plan for back support. And you may need to modify the current order of child support to reflect your current financial situation. Doing nothing, “the head in the sand strategy,” will result in a disaster. If you owe back child support, you need to be proactive and fix the problem now – not later.
2. Alimony. The Department of Revenue will not take action to enforce an alimony order, unless the person receiving alimony also receives child support. Therefore, in many cases to enforce alimony you will either need to represent yourself, or hire an attorney.
3. Parenting Plans. I recommend mediation (or a collaborative process), before bringing a contempt of court action to enforce a parenting plan. Why? First, most parenting plans require mediation to resolve disputes and disagreements, prior to bringing the case back to court. What may seem to be a clear violation of the parenting plan from your perspective, might be framed as a disagreement requiring meditation, by the other side. So, rather than have the court refer your issue back to mediation, it may make sense to start with mediation. Second, when it comes to your children, you are going to have to deal with the other side, over a long period of time. Even if the other side is unreasonable, it usually makes sense to request that parenting issues be mediated before starting litigation. By doing this you are showing that you want to solve real substantive problems like a grownup. Who knows – this may be the time when your former spouse is willing to put the past behind them, and instead focus on the future well-being of your children.
I also suggest parents not to pursue minor one time problems through contempt. If a parent forgets to consult with the other parent in advance of a single dentist appointment, or if one exchange of the children gets botched, I would recommend sending an email identifying the problem, and requesting that it not be repeated.
From my perspective contempt should be reserved for serious violations of the parenting plan – which can be a single incident in some cases, or which are repeated and ongoing violations after a warning.
4. Specific Actions. Examples of specific actions that can be enforced through contempt of court are orders that requires a party to turn over a specific item, like a baseball card collection, or that require a specific action, like changing the title of a car.