Our CFL™ course features many financial aspects of divorce, including child and spousal support, to help you practice family law effectively. Like in the recent high-net-worth Florida appeals case of Accardi vs. Accardi, when one party fails to meet an obligation, a legal battle can ensue. It’s also important to determine who can make court-ordered payments.
According to their 2005 marital settlement agreement, Edmund Accardi agreed to pay Charlotte Accardi $26,700 monthly in permanent non-modifiable alimony with a cost of living adjustment.
In 2017, Charlotte filed a motion for contempt and to enforce the divorce judgment. She alleged that since December 2008 Edmund had failed to comply with his alimony obligation. Based on their son’s testimony, the trial court found that in exchange for an ownership interest in Edmund’s car dealerships, he had agreed to take care of Edmund financially for the rest of his life; he would give his father an average of $20,000 per month to add to his income from other endeavors.
The trial court detailed its factual findings and held Edmund in contempt for willfully failing to comply with his alimony obligation, which he had the means to pay. The court awarded Charlotte her attorney’s fees and costs, finding the amount reasonable and supported with evidence. The court also found that the parties’ son was willing to write a check for $100,000 if his father faced jail time for failure to pay alimony.
Edmund had to pay $2,730,439.50 in outstanding alimony (with interest accruing daily) in $10,000 monthly installments, together with $52,578.55 for Charlotte’s attorney’s fees and costs and $26,753.40 monthly to meet the current alimony obligation. The court then set the purge amount at $100,000 and gave Mr. Accardi 30 days to pay it. Finally, the court ordered that a writ of arrest and bodily attachment would issue “[i]n the event that Former Husband fails to pay any of the purge amount or any of the monthly payments.” Edmund appealed the contempt order.
Florida 4th District Court of Appeals Ruling
The appeals court affirmed “without discussion” the holding that Edmund was in contempt of the alimony order. It found no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s ruling, which complied with applicable family law.
“The focus of our review is on whether the trial court ordered a proper remedy as a result of the willful violation.”
Among other issues, as Charlotte had conceded, the appeals court concluded the trial court had improperly ordered Edward’s incarceration based on future noncompliance to pay alimony.
“Issuing a writ of arrest based on Former Husband’s future noncompliance to make his alimony payments is improper, as ‘civil contempt orders may not provide for incarceration based on future, anticipated noncompliance with a court’s periodic support order.’ Hipschman v. Cochran, 683 So. 2d 209, 211 (Fla. 4th DCA 1996) (citing Phillips v. Phillips, 502 So. 2d 2 (Fla. 4th DCA 1986). This is because due process requires ‘a hearing before incarceration, where a contemnor may challenge the allegation of noncompliance and defend on the ground that he does not have the present ability to pay under Bowen.’ Id.; see also Cokonougher v. Cokonougher, 543 So. 2d 460, 461 (Fla. 2d DCA 1989).” The appeals court reversed the decision and returned it to the trial court.
Regarding Charlotte’s attorney’s fees, citing prior Florida case law, the appeals court decided that the trial court can’t award them without making findings over one spouse’s ability to pay and the other spouse’s need to have the fees paid.
The appeals court found the trial court’s order that stated evidence supported the amount of the fees and that they were reasonable to be “insufficient.” under the law. It reversed this decision and on remand, stated that if the trial court again awards Charlotte attorney’s fees and costs, it must make the findings necessary to support the judgment.
These and other divorce matters can be tough to resolve without a solid understanding of financial principles. Enhancing your education can only help your negotiations. Find out how to gain the knowledge you need to sharpen your legal skills in our free information packet today.