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Contempt order compelling former wife to pay mortgages was improper

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In Byrne v. Byrne, the Fourth District Court of Appeal of Florida reversed an order of the trial court holding the former wife in civil contempt for failing to keep two mortgages current.

March 14, 2014 /24-7PressRelease/ — In Byrne v. Byrne, the Fourth District Court of Appeal of Florida reversed an order of the trial court holding the former wife in civil contempt for failing to keep two mortgages current on the former marital home, and also reversed the trial court’s order appointing a receiver to collect rental income generated from the former wife’s lease of the property.

Procedural background

The parties obtained a divorce in 2010. Under the terms of the property division order in the trial court’s final judgment of dissolution of marriage, the marital home was equitably distributed to the former wife, and the financial responsibility was imposed upon her to pay both mortgages encumbering the property.

In a subsequent proceeding, after she fell behind on the payments, the trial court ordered her to use the proceeds of the rental income which she was receiving under a lease of the property to immediately bring the mortgages current. When she failed to do so, the bank filed a foreclosure action.

The former husband filed a motion to hold the former wife in contempt and asked the trial court to appoint a receiver to collect the rental income. The trial court conducted a hearing and issued an order finding the former wife in civil contempt for failing to comply with the order requiring her to use the rental income derived from the lease of the property to bring both mortgages current. To purge her contempt, and thereby avoid going to jail, the former wife was ordered to pay $15,000 by a specified date. The court also issued an order appointing a receiver to collect the rental income. The former wife appealed both rulings.

The Fourth District’s ruling

The Fourth District held that the use of contempt proceedings to compel the former wife to pay the mortgages was improper, and reversed the trial court’s contempt order in its entirety, citing a prior Fourth District ruling, which determined that contempt proceedings may not be used for enforcement of property settlements in divorce cases.

The Fourth District also agreed with the former wife’s contention that the former husband did not have the legal standing to file a request for the appointment of a receiver to collect rent from the tenants living in the former marital home. The court cited a prior Fourth District case which held that a person must have a legal or equitable claim in the property that is the subject of the legal controversy, such as a claim of ownership, or a lien or other property right, in order to have standing to file a request for a court to appoint a receiver. The former husband no longer held a legal interest in the former marital home, said the court, as the final judgment of dissolution equitably distributed the property to the former wife, and there was no proof submitted at the hearing to show that the former husband held any equitable claims in the property, such as a lien or other property right.

Individuals facing a divorce or other domestic relations proceedings are urged to consult with a competent attorney, experienced in such matters, for the protection of their legal rights.

Article provided by McMichen, Cinami & Demps
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