Contempt Proceedings as Enforceable Mechanisms for Marital Settlement Agreements: Differences for Support Obligations v. Equitable Distribution
In a dissolution of marriage case, there are generally five major issues, which we identify according to the PEACE acronym. Those are: Parenting, Equitable distribution, Alimony, Child support, and Everything else. What you can expect is that many dissolution of marriage cases get resolved prior to going to trial, either at mediation or by entering into a Marital Settlement Agreement.
If the parties are splitting assets or money, it is important to keep in mind that the way those items are characterized can have consequences on whether they are enforceable by contempt. For example, if one party agrees to give to the other spouse a particular property or a sum of money, whether it is characterized as alimony, child support, or equitable distribution is very important. An obligation of support, such as alimony and child support, is enforceable by the Court through its contempt powers. However, failure to abide by an agreement which calls for a specific equitable distribution scheme is not enforceable by contempt.
But what happens if the agreement between the parties, or the final judgment adopting the same, does not specify whether a particular obligation is in the nature of support or part of equitable distribution? The court in Morrel v Morrel, 38 Fla. L. Weekly D22a (4th DCA 2013), was recently faced with this question. There, the former husband was required to maintain life insurance pursuant to a settlement agreement. When the former husband failed to do as he agreed, the former wife attempted to enforce the agreement through a contempt proceeding. The final judgment did not provide for alimony or other support for the wife. Because of this, but to no avail, the former husband argued that the life insurance was part of equitable distribution of property and therefore not enforceable by contempt. Due to evidence presented, the trial court agreed with the former wife that the life insurance was in the nature of support, and the 4th DCA affirmed. The result was that the husband was ordered “either to secure the insurance or to deposit cash of an equivalent amount in an account for the former wife’s benefit, should he predecease her.”
As you can see from the Morrel case, one way to avoid these situations is to understand the consequences of any provisions in the agreement, which you agree to sign. If you would like to avoid any ambiguity, be as precise and as clear as possible.
For more information, see Morrel v Morrel, 38 Fla. L. Weekly D22a (4th DCA 2013).
Liridona Sinani is an Attorney with Martin Law Firm, P.L., who practices Family Law and Civil Litigation. She is admitted to practice law in the State of Florida. She primarily practices in Lee County Florida in Cape Coral and Fort Myers, Florida.
CAPE CORAL, Fla. (Nov. 1, 2011) Thomas E. Shipp Jr. has joined the attorneys at Martin Law Firm announced firm principal, Steven E. Martin. An estate planning attorney based in Cape Coral since 1980, Shipp will add his expertise in the services of creating wills, trusts and other estate planning administration to the Martin Law Firm.
“We had been referring clients to one another,” said Martin. “It seemed natural to add his expertise to the services we offer our clients, making it more convenient to them to utilize our attorneys for all of their business and personal needs.”
The addition brings Shipp’s 30-plus years of experience to the firm’s estate planning practice, which also includes expertise in Bankruptcy, Family Law, Corporate and Business Services, and Real Estate Administration. Shipp earned his law degree from St. Louis University and was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1977. He is a member of the Real Property, Probate and Trust section of the Florida Bar.
Following the Martin Law Firm’s history of commitment to community service, Shipp is a member and past president of the Lee County Planning and past President of the Lee County Chapter of the International Association for Financial Planning. He has served on Executive Council of the Lee County Bar Association and is the President of the Cape Coral Bar Association. He is a Director and past Chairman of the Cape Coral Chamber of Commerce. He is also a member of the Investment Committee of the Cape Coral Community Foundation and past President of the Rotary Club Cape Coral Goldcoast.
Martin Law Firm is a group of attorneys founded by Steven and Eviana Martin, a husband and wife team focusing on estate planning, civil litigation, corporate and
business planning, family law, personal injury and real property law. Their offices are located in Cape Coral, Fort Myers and Naples. Members of the firm are admitted to
practice in the state of Florida and in the Federal Court for the Middle District of Florida.
Cape Coral, FL: The Martin Law Firm, PL welcomes Martina Nethery as the newest associate of the firm. Ms. Nethery’s practice focuses on estate planning, probate, estate and gift taxation, asset protection, and civil litigation. She received her BA cum laude from the University of Central Florida, and her JD, LL.M. in Taxation, and Estates and Trusts certificate from the University of Florida, Levin College of Law.
She is a member of the Tax, Real Property, Probate and Trust Law sections of the Florida Bar Association.
Ms. Nethery served as a judicial extern for the Probate Division of the Eighth Judicial Circuit Court of Florida. Exploring her interest in alternative dispute resolution, she also interned for the County Court Mediation Clinic, a special program offered by the University of Florida’s Virgil D. Hawkins Civil Clinic.
With offices in Naples, Cape Coral, Fort Myers, and North Fort Myers, Martin Law Firm provides services in tax law, bankruptcy, personal injury, real estate, family law, estate planning, business services, probate administration and civil litigation.