Husband In Contempt for Not Obeying Marital Termination Agreement
Tennessee case summary on contempt to enforce a settlement after divorce.
The husband and wife in this Tennessee case were divorced in 2009. They entered into a marital termination agreement, which was incorporated into the final decree. It provided that the husband transfer certain vehicles to the wife, make a down payment on a vehicle, make mortgage payments, and transfer certain property into her name. In 2013, the wife filed a petition for contempt in Claiborne County and alleged that the husband had not complied with these provisions.
The husband filed a response, in which he maintained that his failures were not willful. He stated that he was unable to deliver a motorcycle because it had been repossessed, that he had attempted to deliver another vehicle, and that he was financially unable to make certain required car payments. He also alleged that the property was in foreclosure, and that he was in bankruptcy.
The court held a hearing at which the husband did not appear, but was represented by an attorney. The court listened to the wife’s testimony, and concluded that the husband was able to comply, but had engaged in a pattern of delay, deception, obscuration, and calculating to defeat his obligations. The husband was ordered to be incarcerated and fined $50 per day until he was in full compliance. The court later held this order in abeyance pending the resolution of the bankruptcy proceedings. After another hearing at which the trial court declined to modify the original order, the husband appealed to the Tennessee Court of Appeals.
The appeals court first noted that courts have contempt power to punish contemptuous conduct, and that these provisions are codified in the Tennessee statutes. The husband argued that he was being held in contempt merely for violating the contract with his wife, and that this did not call into play the court’s contempt power. But in this case, the appeals court agreed that the lower court had correctly used the contempt power, since the agreement had been incorporated into the court order.
The appeals court then reviewed the record and concluded that the evidence supported the finding of contempt in this case, despite the claim that the conduct was not willful. It did, however, modify the order, correcting a minor error.
Finally, the husband had argued that the automatic stay of the bankruptcy case should have prevented the contempt order. However, the appeals court noted that the bankruptcy case had since been dismissed. Therefore, there was no reason to give this issue further consideration.
For these reasons, the Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s order, with the one modification.
No. E2015-01362-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Sep. 7, 2016).
See original opinion for exact language. Legal citations omitted.
To learn more, see The Tennessee Divorce Process: How Divorces Work Start to Finish.