If a party willfully fails to comply with an order of the court, he or she may be subject to contempt proceedings [see, e.g., Chapman v. Lamm, 388 So. 2d 1048 (Fla. 3d DCA 1980)]. As opposed to the other forms of enforcement, contempt is a harsh procedure, in that a party may be subjected to incarceration or fines, or both, for failure to comply with the orders of the court [see Chapman v. Lamm, 388 So. 2d 1048 (Fla. 3d DCA 1980)]. While a person cannot be imprisoned for failure to pay a money debt [see Art. I, 11, Fla. Const.], imprisonment for failure to pay a court-ordered obligation of alimony or support is based on the fact that the obligation arises not out of a mere debt, but out of a duty of support owed by the party to his or her dependents, and that in accordance with public necessity steps must be taken to ensure that parties will fulfill their obligations of support [see Chapman v. Lamm, 388 So. 2d 1048 (Fla. 3d DCA 1980)].
If the obligation is made payable to a third party, such as a central depository [see Fla. Stat. 61.08, 61.13], it is no longer an obligation owed to the supported party, since the payments are not made directly to the supported party, and it is considered a mere monetary debt [see Chapman v. Lamm, 388 So. 2d 1048 (Fla. 3d DCA 1980)]. Thus, the debt can no longer be enforced by a contempt proceeding, since an action in contempt of a court order may result not only in fines, but in imprisonment [see Chapman v. Lamm, 388 So. 2d 1048 (Fla. 3d DCA 1980)]. For example, if a party has been ordered to make support payments through the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services, his or her failure to do so constitutes a failure to pay a money debt for which he or she may not be subject to contempt proceedings [see, e.g., Chapman v. Lamm, 388 So. 2d 1048 (Fla. 3d DCA 1980)].
The Florida Supreme Court has held that a court may use its power of civil contempt to enforce payment of attorneys’ fees awarded in a proceeding to enforce visitation rights. In making this ruling, the Court rejected the contention that this would result in an unconstitutional use of contempt powers to enforce payment of a debt. The Court reasoned that the enforcement of visitation rights and a related award of attorneys’ fees is as essential to the best interests of the child and society at large as is the enforcement of child support payments and related attorneys’ fees [Fishman v. Fishman, 656 So. 2d 1250, 1252 (Fla. 1995)].
Subsequently, the Fourth District Court of Appeal seemed to apply a broad interpretation of the Supreme Court’s decision, holding that attorneys’ fees awarded pursuant to Florida Statutes Section 61.16 may be enforced through contempt, regardless of whether child custody, child support, or alimony was awarded or enforced in the underlying domestic relations action [see Wertkin v. Wertkin, 763 So. 2d 465, 466 (Fla. 4th DCA 2000)]. However, closer analysis of the Fourth District’s opinion reveals that the court discussed the attorneys’ fees at issue as an aspect of support, noting that if the respondent-husband were not required to pay the fees, the wife would have to pay them, which would reduce her ability to support herself [see Wertkin v. Wertkin, 763 So. 2d 465, 466 (Fla. 4th DCA 2000); see also Gibson v. Bennett, 561 So. 2d 565, 570 (Fla. 1990) (obligation to pay spousal or child support is personal duty owed to both former spouse or child and to society, rather than debt within meaning of Article I, Section 11 of Florida’s Constitution)].
There are two types of contempt: criminal contempt and civil contempt [see Deter v. Deter, 353 So. 2d 614 (Fla. 4th DCA 1977)]. For either type of contempt, a court may impose either a fine or imprisonment, or both [see Demetree v. State, 89 So. 2d 498 (Fla. 1956); Ducksworth v. Boyer, 125 So. 2d 844 (Fla. 1960)]. Whether an act constitutes civil or criminal contempt depends on the nature of the allegedly contemptuous act and is not dependent on the nature of the cause from which the contempt citation arose [see Deter v. Deter, 353 So. 2d 614 (Fla. 4th DCA 1977)].
Civil contempt consists of a failure to do something that the court had ordered done for the benefit of an opposing party in a civil action [see Deter v. Deter, 353 So. 2d 614 (Fla. 4th DCA 1977)]. Thus, the purpose of civil contempt proceedings is to preserve and enforce the rights of the party or parties to whom a duty is owed [Deter v. Deter, 353 So. 2d 614 (Fla. 4th DCA 1977)]. The purpose of incarceration in a civil contempt proceeding is not to punish a party, but to coerce him or her into complying with the court’s orders [In re Tierney, 328 So. 2d 40 (Fla. 4th DCA 1976)].
Criminal contempt is conduct that interferes with or obstructs the administration of justice by the court [In re Tierney, 328 So. 2d 40 (Fla. 4th DCA 1976)]. The primary purpose of a criminal contempt proceeding, therefore, is to punish a party for defying the authority of the court, and thereby to preserve its power and dignity [Deter v. Deter, 353 So. 2d 614 (Fla. 4th DCA 1977)]. In addition, criminal contempt constitutes a crime in and of itself under Florida law, as opposed to civil contempt [Aaron v. State, 284 So. 2d 673 (Fla. 1973)]. The act that gives rise to the proceeding for criminal contempt need not, however, be a criminal act [Deter v. Deter, 353 So. 2d 614 (Fla. 4th DCA 1977)]. For example, a party may be found to be in criminal contempt of the court based on a failure to make alimony or child support payments [see State ex rel. Coody v. Muszynski, 404 So. 2d 165 (Fla. 5th DCA 1981)]. Because criminal contempt constitutes a crime, the contempt proceeding must meet all the procedural requirements of a criminal proceeding [see Chapman v. Lamm, 388 So. 2d 1048 (Fla. 3d DCA 1980).
A distinction must be also made between direct and indirect contempt. Direct contempt takes place in the immediate presence of the court [State ex rel. Coody v. Muszynski, 404 So. 2d 165 (Fla. 5th DCA 1981)]. For example, if a party directs obscene and disrespectful language at the judge, it constitutes direct contempt [see, e.g., Saunders v. State, 319 So. 2d 118 (Fla. 1st DCA 1975)]. Indirect contempt, on the other hand, is an act of contempt that takes place outside the presence of the court [see State ex rel. Coody v. Muszynski, 404 So. 2d 165 (Fla. 5th DCA 1981)]. By their nature, most acts that constitute contempt in the context of dissolution actions, such as failing to pay alimony or child support [see State ex rel. Coody v. Muszynski, 404 So. 2d 165 (Fla. 5th DCA 1981)], or violating court orders with regard to the protection of persons or property [Deter v. Deter, 353 So. 2d 614 (Fla. 4th DCA 1977)], are acts of indirect contempt. The practical effect of the distinction is that the court may summarily punish an act of contempt that the court witnesses [see Fla. R. Crim. P. 3.830].
A contempt proceeding may be both civil and criminal, depending on the acts complained of [see Deter v. Deter, 353 So. 2d 614 (Fla. 4th DCA 1977)]. For example, where contempt proceedings were brought against a husband for his failure to pay alimony and for his violation of an injunction prohibiting the parties from accosting or molesting each other, the proceedings were partly civil in nature, based on the husband’s failure to make court-ordered payments, and partly criminal, based on his assault on the wife [see Deter v. Deter, 353 So. 2d 614 (Fla. 4th DCA 1977)].
A party may be held in contempt for a failure to fulfill obligations other than those relating to alimony or child support [see Cobb v. Cobb, 399 So. 2d 479 (Fla. 1st DCA 1981)]. For instance, in one case, a husband was found to be in contempt of court for failure to make payments on furniture which the court had awarded to the wife [Cobb v. Cobb, 399 So. 2d 479 (Fla. 1st DCA 1981)]. In that case the court had decided, on the basis of testimony taken at the hearing, that making such payments on the furniture was a marital duty which the husband owed to the wife [see Cobb v. Cobb, 399 So. 2d 479 (Fla. 1st DCA 1981)].
There are other cases, however, which indicate that contempt is not applicable to the failure of a party to pay obligations which are unconnected to a duty to provide child support or alimony [Ball v. Ball, 440 So. 2d 677 (Fla. 1st DCA 1983)]. Thus, where a husband was ordered in the judgment of dissolution to make payments on bank loans and to pay the current balance on the parties’ credit account, and failed to do so, it was held to be an error for the trial court to use its contempt power to enforce his payment of those debts, as these were unconnected with family support obligations [see Ball v. Ball, 440 So. 2d 677 (Fla. 1st DCA 1983)]. Similarly, it was held to be error when a trial court held a husband in contempt for failing to pay off the second mortgage on the marital home, as required by the final judgment of dissolution, because that obligation was in the nature of a property settlement, not support [Filan v. Filan, 549 So. 2d 1105 (Fla. 4th DCA 1989)].
A party may be found in contempt if he or she violates the provisions of a property settlement agreement which was incorporated into the judgment of dissolution [Shane v. Shane, 444 So. 2d 86 (Fla. 3d DCA 1984)] or if he or she fails to comply with the court’s orders with regard to the disposition of property [see Cadwell v. Cadwell, 549 So. 2d 1133 (Fla. 3d DCA 1989); Pennington v. Pennington, 390 So. 2d 809 (Fla. 5th DCA 1980)]. In addition, a party may be found in contempt for violating the provisions of a judgment relating to matters of shared parental responsibility [see Chapnick v. Hare, 394 So. 2d 202 (Fla. 4th DCA 1981); Ohayon v. Ohayon, 380 So. 2d 1204 (Fla. 1st DCA 1980)], or for violating injunctions or orders restraining the conduct of the party [see Deter v. Deter, 353 So. 2d 614 (Fla. 4th DCA 1977)].
A court may not exercise a power of contempt if the acts complained of relate to an agreement made by the parties which is not incorporated into the judgment of dissolution [Holmes v. Coolman, 401 So. 2d 895 (Fla. 4th DCA 1981)]. This is the case even if the agreement relates to or supplements the provisions of the judgment [see Holmes v. Coolman, 401 So. 2d 895 (Fla. 4th DCA 1981)]. For example, in one instance the court incorporated into the judgment of dissolution a property settlement agreement made by the parties which provided, among other things, that the husband would be the primary residential custodian of the children, and that the wife would be allowed “liberal reasonable rights of visitation” [see Holmes v. Coolman, 401 So. 2d 895, 896 (Fla. 4th DCA 1981)]. At a later date, the parties executed an addendum to the agreement specifying in more detail the manner in which the visitation rights were to be exercised, but which was never presented to the court or incorporated into the judgment in a modification proceeding. The wife failed to comply with the provisions of the addendum and was subsequently held in contempt by the trial court. The finding of contempt was overturned on appeal, on the basis that the wife could not be held in contempt, in that she had not violated an order of the court [see Holmes v. Coolman, 401 So. 2d 895 (Fla. 4th DCA 1981)].