Tuition Tales on Trial

Fourth DCA:  Trial Court Erred in Holding Mother in Contempt Without Finding of Ability to Comply With Order

Harris v. Hampton
Case No. 4D11-966

The Fourth District Court of Appeal wrote to address an appeal of a non-final order of contempt entered after a final order in a post-dissolution of marriage case. The trial court had entered an order containing the parties’ agreement to enroll their minor child at a certain private school. The father then filed a motion for contempt, alleging the mother had failed to register the child in the school as required by the court’s order. The court granted the motion for contempt and ordered the mother to enroll the child immediately. The father later filed another motion for contempt and enforcement based on the mother’s failure to enroll the minor child in the school. The court granted the motion and ordered the mother to enroll the child within fifteen days or face ten days in the Broward County Jail, and to pay the father’s attorney’s fees.

On appeal, the Fourth District stated that “Florida courts . . . require that in order to find an individual in contempt, the trial court must find that the contemnor had the ability to comply with the previous court order.” Dep’t of Children & Families v. R.H., 819 So. 2d 858, 862 (Fla. 5th DCA 2002). The Fourth DCA noted that the trial court failed to make a finding that the mother had the ability to comply with the previous order by sending the child to the private school and paying the associated tuition and fees. Additionally, the court noted that the original order where the parties agreed to enroll the child at the school had failed to specify that the mother was the party responsible for enrolling the child. The Fourth District reversed and remanded the case based on the order’s failure to find the mother had the ability to comply.