SSRGA Obtains Partial Reversal of Order Finding Father in Contempt for Violation of Requirements Altered by Parties in Parenting Coordination

March 22, 2023*

SSRGA recently secured the reversal of rulings in an order that found our client in contempt for violations of parenting requirements that the parties had altered through agreements reached with a parenting coordinator.

The parties were divorced by the entry of a final judgment that included a parenting plan. The mother later filed a motion for contempt against the father for his alleged failure to comply with certain requirements in the parenting plan. Some of the requirements the mother accused the father of violating related to communication between the parties regarding the children, and facilitating communication between the parties and children during the other party’s timesharing.

The parties then engaged in parenting coordination pursuant to section 61.25(2), Florida Statutes, over a five-month period. The parties negotiated sixteen written agreements, most of which related to the communication issues. Despite the agreements, the mother filed a renewed motion for contempt in which she did not change her allegations that the father had failed to comply with the requirements of the parenting plan. The trial court entered an order finding the father in contempt of the communication provisions and other requirements.

SSRGA represented the father on appeal to the Fourth District Court of Appeal (“Fourth DCA”). We stressed that a finding of contempt requires clarity and specificity because it must be based upon a violation of the clear terms of a court order. We argued that the requirements the father was to observe were not clearly defined because the parties altered the requirements of the parenting plan in the parties’ agreements through the parenting coordinator. We also maintained that the father complied with the parties’ agreements and that, under the circumstances, any alleged noncompliance with the parenting plan could not be deemed willful, as is also required to support a finding of contempt under these circumstances.

The Fourth DCA issued a written opinion in which it agreed with SSRGA’s argument as to the contempt finding on the issues the parties had altered in parenting coordination. The Fourth DCA reasoned that it would defeat the purpose of parenting coordination if parents could ignore agreements they made when pursuing contempt. The court reversed the order of contempt and purge provisions as to the communication issues, as they were the subject of the parenting coordination agreements. The Fourth DCA also conditionally granted our client’s request for appellate attorney’s fees and remanded to the trial court for consideration of that issue.

* Not final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.