Contempt Matters



Issues and Information on Florida Family Law on Contempt.


Florida Law Contempt of Court:

Criminal Contempt: Direct — a person insults the court (judge) to his or her face. For example, a person appears in front of a judge and the judge announces a ruling and the person states, “I am not going to obey that order because you do not have the brains to get in out of the rain.” The judge can put that person in jail immediately and/or fined.

Criminal Contempt: Indirect — a person does not obey a court order and makes out-of-court statements and does acts related to the refusal to obey the court’s order that insult the court’s authority over that person. The judge can order that person jailed or fined or both for this kind of contempt of court.

Civil Contempt: The person has the “key” to get himself or herself out of jail. Individuals can be put in jail (incarcerated) for not paying child support and for not paying alimony, as these deemed orders for support in family law cases. If a person is ordered to be put in jail or incarcerated for failure to pay child support or for failure to pay alimony, there is usually a certain amount that the person can pay to purge the contempt and get out of jail. The purge amount is that person’s get out of jail key.

A payor of child support or a payor of alimony should not be jailed or incarcerated unless that person has the ability to pay the purge amount. Financial affidavits and mandatory disclosure documents plus other discovery documents help the judge determine a fair and equitable purge amount.

However, if the judge rules that the payor had the ability to pay for a period of time and yet refused to make any support payments during that time, then the judge might find that person in indirect criminal contempt. If criminal contempt is ruled against you, the judge does not give you a “key”: you get the sentence and will have to serve it. There are defenses to not paying support payments, but if the reason is a decrease in income, the payor should immediately file for change to existing orders, either as a temporary abatement or a permanen reduction. Contact us as to whether your circumstances qualify for a permanent reduction or an abatement.

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Phone: 407-628-4300 or 1-800-536-5179

Question: What should a person do when someone hasn’t paid court-ordered child support or court-ordered alimony for many, many years, and the amount is more than he or she could possibly pay, and suddenly he or she gets a notice to appear in court and the notice states that the person may be put in jail and a driver’s license and all professional licenses may be suspended?

There are defenses to unpaid child support or unpaid alimony in certain situations. If a person who is due unpaid child support or unpaid alimony waits too long to go to court to collect past due child support or alimony, the person who was supposed to pay child support or alimony can plead defenses of laches and equitable estoppel. These terms basically mean that the payee waited too long to pursue his or her rights to collect child support or alimony, and the payor had a reasonable belief that the payee wasn’t going to go to court to try to collect or enforce the orders. However, because child support is a right vested in the child, not the parent, the judge may allow past child support to be ordered to be paid, or for some past medical bills to be paid, despite any valid defenses that might be raised.

If past due alimony is at issue and the affirmative defenses have merit, the payor is on stronger grounds, usually, because there is no minor child involved. However, sometimes an elderly person who receives alimony could have become of diminished mental capacity. Every case has to be looked at for the specific set of underlying facts that might create exceptions.

Note that laches and equitable estoppel are affirmative defenses that need to be properly made to be used as a defense against unpaid child support or unpaid alimony.

Caution: do not rely on these answers for specific legal advice. Every person’s situation is different.

See Enforcement of Orders, Judgments & Agreements


This information is not to be used as legal advice.
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Phone: 407-628-4300 or 1-800-536-5179