August 1, 2011

Finding of Contempt for Failure to Pay Medical Expenses Improper Where Good Faith Dispute Existed as to Whether Procedure Was Reasonable and Necessary

Lustgarten v. Lustgarten, 4D09-4404
June 22, 2011

The parties entered into a settlement agreement that required the former husband, who is a physician, to pay former wife’s Medicare insurance premiums and medical expenses not covered by Medicare. Former wife later brought a motion for contempt, alleging that the former husband refused to pay for a medically necessary liver transplant. Former husband contended that the transplant was not medically necessary but was instead experimental, and that a less expensive treatment that Medicare covered had been recommended by former wife’s first physicians. The trial court granted former wife’s motion. The trial court found that the parties’ previous deletion of the phrase “reasonable and necessary” in the amended final judgment meant the former husband waived that requirement as to former wife’s procedure. The trial court found former husband willfully violated the amended final judgment by failing to pay for the transplant.

On appeal, the Fourth DCA agreed with former husband’s argument that former wife had to prove the transplant was reasonable and necessary. Relying upon McBride v. McBride, 637 So. 2d 938, 940-41 (Fla. 2d DCA 1994), the Court stated: “It is implicit within a final judgment of dissolution that medical expenses for which payment is sought must be reasonable and necessary.” The Court also agreed that the former husband had not waived the requirement. Despite these findings, the Court held the error harmless because former wife had provided substantial competent evidence the transplant was reasonable and necessary. However, the Court held the former husband’s violation was not willful because he had a good faith basis to question whether the transplant was reasonable and necessary based on the recommendation of the former wife’s first physicians. The Court remanded for the trial court to vacate the order of contempt and for an order requiring former husband to pay the medical expenses within thirty days.