Can I obtain attorney fees in my contempt or enforcement action?

The court is authorized to award attorney fees in a contempt or enforcement action under F.S. 61.16 (1). The party seeking enforcement must show that the noncompliant party willfully refused to follow the order. The party seeking enforcement may be awarded attorney’s fees if he/she exhibits need and the opposing party has the ability to pay. The court may take the noncompliance of a party into consideration when determining an award of attorney’s fees even when the party is not found to be in contempt of court. The court should not award attorney’s fees to the noncompliant party if his/her noncompliance is found to be unjustified; regardless of his/her relative financial position.

The prevailing authority regarding attorney fees in family law matters is F.S. 61.16 which is provided below:

61.16 Attorney fees, suit money, and costs

(1) The court may from time to time, after considering the financial resources of both parties, order a party to pay a reasonable amount for attorney’s fees, suit money, and the cost to the other party of maintaining or defending any proceeding under this chapter, including enforcement and modification proceedings and appeals. In those cases in which an action is brought for enforcement and the court finds that the noncompliant party is without justification in the refusal to follow a court order, the court may not award attorney’s fees, suit money, or costs to the noncompliant party. An application for attorney fees, suit money, or costs, whether temporary or otherwise, shall not require corroborating expert testimony in order to support an award under this chapter. The trial court shall have continuing jurisdiction to make temporary attorney’s fees and costs awards reasonably necessary to prosecute or defend an appeal on the same basis and criteria as though the matter were pending before it at the trial level. In all cases, the court may order that the amount be paid directly to the attorney, who may enforce the order in that attorney’s name. In determining whether to make attorney’s fees and costs awards at the appellate level, the court shall primarily consider the relative financial positions resources of the parties, unless an appellate party’s cause is deemed to be frivolous. In Title IV-D cases, attorney’s fees, suit money, and costs, including filing fees, recording fees, mediation costs, service or process fees, and other expenses incurred by the clerk of the circuit cout, shall be assessed only against the nonprevailing obligor’s ability to pay such costs and fees. The Department of Revenue shall not be considered a party for purposes of this section; however, fees may be assessed against the department pursuant to s. 57.105 (1).

(2) In an action brought pursuant to rule 3.840, Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure, whether denominated direct or indirect criminal contempt the court shall have authority to:  (a) Appoint an attorney to prosecute said contempt;  (b Assess attorney’s fees and costs against the contemptor after the court makes a determination of the contemptor’s ability to pay such costs and fees; and  (c) Order that the amount be paid directly to the attorney, who may enforce the order in his or her name.

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