Posted on July 23, 2023

Enforcing An Illinois Divorce Judgment In Florida

People from Illinois love to move to Florida. People who get divorced love to get a fresh start in Florida. These new Florida residents might have some obligations back in Illinois due to their Illinois divorce.

How do you enforce an Illinois divorce judgment when the other party is now in Florida? How do you register an Illinois divorce judgment in Florida.

To answer this question, you must be able to opine on both the underlying Illinois divorce decree and the Florida enforcement procedures.

A lawyer can only provide advice that they are competent to give.

“A lawyer shall provide competent representation to a client. Competent representation requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation.”  Ill. Sup. Ct. R. 1.1, R. Regul. FL. Bar 4-1.1

I am (to the best of my knowledge) the only family law attorney in America who actively practices family law in both Illinois and Florida. I may be the only person who can answer this question.

Why Would You Want To Enforce An Illinois Divorce Judgment In Florida?

When people leave Illinois, they often leave for good. This leaves zero Illinois assets to be seized or Illinois income Illinois to be garnished. Their obligations per a divorce judgment remain in Illinois.

A court order from Illinois, effectively, only applies to assets and income in Illinois.

Under Illinois law, a withholding support withholding order may be issued to a Florida resident. But, what happens if the Florida resident is self-employed or the employer does not cooperate?

With just a piece of paper from Illinois threatening them, a Florida resident can simply shrug and roll their eyes. It is all just a piece of paper until assets are seized or someone is thrown in jail.

Illinois divorce law’s ultimate enforcement option is a body attachment.

“In any proceeding to enforce an order for support, where the obligor has failed to appear in court pursuant to order of court and after due notice thereof, the court may enter an order for the attachment of the body of the obligor..” 750 ILCS 5/713(a)

A body attachment is like a civil order of arrest. An Illinois sheriff is the only person who can take the person into custody on an Illinois body attachment.

“The attachment order shall direct the Sheriff of any county in Illinois to take the obligor into custody” 750 ILCS 5/713(a)

There are no “[s]heriff[s] of any county in Illinois” in Florida.

Likewise, an Illinois court cannot foreclose upon or seize Florida assets as these assets are beyond the jurisdiction of Illinois courts.

The Illinois divorce judgment must be registered in Florida as a foreign judgment so the Illinois divorce judgment can be enforced locally against the party who owes assets or maintenance. Upon registration, the Illinois divorce judgment is a Florida judgment and can be enforced by Florida courts.

Registering An Illinois Divorce Judgment In Florida

An order from one state has every right to be respected and enforced in another state.

“Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State.”  U.S. Const. Art. IV Sec. 1

“[A] judgment, decree, or order of a court of any other state, territory or commonwealth of the United States, or of the United States if such judgment, decree, or order is entitled to full faith and credit in this state.” Fla. Stat. § 55.502(1)

As long as the Illinois court order is not subject to modification, the court order can be registered and enforced in Florida so long as one of the parties lives in Florida (obviously, it will be the person who owes the money)

“A foreign divorce decree which is not subject to modification may be established in Florida under the full faith and credit clause of the United States Constitution.” Gutz v. Manser, 498 So. 2d 597 – Fla: Dist. Court of Appeals, 2nd Dist. 1986

Enforcing An Illinois Divorce In Florida Courts

There are only two types of enforcement of a foreign divorce judgment in Florida: 1) property settlement and 2) support

Illinois allows courts to imprison ex-spouses who owe ANY money via contempt proceedings.

“[M]aintenance and property-settlement provisions of a dissolution judgment may be enforced through contempt proceedings.” In re Marriage of Admire, 549 NE 2d 620 – Ill: Appellate Court, 5th Dist. 1989

While Illinois will allow a court to throw an ex-spouse in jail for not paying a debt to the spouse, Florida will not imprison someone for simply owing a fixed sum of money that is not support

“[T]he Full Faith and Credit Clause requires Florida to recognize the judgments of other states, but it does not require Florida to utilize the enforcement mechanisms of other states. This is especially so when the enforcement mechanisms of other states are against Florida’s legitimate domestic public policies. In this instance, full faith and credit does not subordinate Florida’s laws — prohibiting imprisonment for mere debt — to Illinois’ laws.” Weiss v. Weiss, 100 So. 3d 1220 – Fla: Dist. Court of Appeals, 2nd Dist. 2012

“Under Florida law, the remedies available to enforce the breach by a party of a property settlement provision in a marital settlement agreement are those available to creditors against debtors. Neither contempt nor incarceration is included among them.” Weiss v. Weiss, 100 So. 3d 1220 – Fla: Dist. Court of Appeals, 2nd Dist. 2012

This means that an Illinois money judgment can be used to seize assets in Florida but an Illinois money judgment cannot be used to seize the debtor (which is usually the only way to get their attention)

A Florida court will allow contempt proceedings tf the money owed is based on a support obligation (either child support or alimony).

“[T]here is a broad arsenal of coercive civil contempt sanctions available to the trial court, including incarceration, garnishment of wages, additional employment, the filing of reports, additional fines, the delivery of certain assets, the revocation of a driver’s license.” Parisi v. Broward County, 769 So. 2d 359 – Fla: Supreme Court 2000

Of all of the tools of judicial enforcement via contempt proceedings, the threat of incarceration is by far the most powerful.

“Once the court finds that a civil contempt has occurred, it must determine what alternatives are appropriate to obtain compliance with the court order. If incarceration is deemed appropriate, the court must make a separate, affirmative finding that the contemnor possesses the present ability to comply with the purge conditions set forth in the contempt order.” Bowen v. Bowen, 471 So. 2d 1274 – Fla: Supreme Court 1985

There is a risk in enforcing alimony in Florida. Once a Florida court has jurisdiction over a support case, a Florida court can start modifying or terminating the support amount.

If the money the Florida resident owes is deemed support, “a Florida court has jurisdiction to modify the alimony provisions of a foreign judgment” Mani v. Mani, 927 So. 2d 1087 – Fla: Dist. Court of Appeals, 4th Dist. 2006

If your divorce was finalized in Illinois but needs to be enforced in Florida, contact me, the one lawyer who understands ALL the issues in both states.

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Russell Knight

Russell D. Knight has been practicing family law as a Chicago divorce lawyer since 2006. Russell D. Knight amicably resolves tough cases while remaining a strong advocate for his client’s interests.

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