March 27, 2012

Fourth DCA Reverses Order of Contempt

Parris v. Silveira and Parris
Case No. 4D11-3006

Angelica Parris gave birth to a child while married to Joseph Parris. Angelica later filed for divorce, representing in her petition for dissolution that there were no minor children of the marriage. The trial court entered a final judgment of dissolution of marriage. Silveira later filed a paternity action pertaining to the child Angelica had given birth to while still married to Joseph Parris. The trial court dismissed the paternity action based upon the presumption of Joseph Parris’ paternity during the marriage. The trial court later discovered Angelica’s representation in the dissolution of marriage action that there were no children of her marriage to Joseph Parris. The trial court vacated its previous order dismissing the paternity action. The court held a contempt hearing and found Angelica in contempt for her false representations in both cases. The court ordered that Angelica could purge the contempt by arranging for a DNA test to determine the child’s paternity.

In a written opinion, the Fourth District Court of Appeal (“DCA”) held that the trial court erred in finding Angelica in civil contempt. The Fourth DCA stressed that civil contempt is a coercive sanction that is used to compel compliance with a court order. Bowen v. Bowen, 471 So. 2d 1274, 1277 (Fla. 1985). Although Angelica may have previously lied, she could not properly be held in civil contempt because she was under no court order to perform any act. The Fourth DCA reversed.