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Husband Can’t Be In Contempt Absent Discovering of Potential to Pay

Tennessee case abstract on post-divorce alimony assortment.

John C. Helton v. Esther R. Helton

Husband Can’t Be In Contempt Absent Discovering of Potential to Pay

The husband and spouse on this Hamilton County, Tennessee, case divorced in 2016.  Their marital dissolution settlement was authorised by the court docket, and referred to as for the husband to pay alimony of $4,000 per 30 days till the marital residence was bought, after which $5,000 per 30 days.  It additionally offered that the husband was to be chargeable for the son’s scholar mortgage debt.

In 2018, the spouse filed a petition for contempt.  She alleged that the husband had didn’t take duty for the scholar mortgage debt.  The husband argued that the scholar loans had been in deferment, and for that purpose he couldn’t be in contempt.

The trial court docket discovered the husband to be in civil contempt for failing to pay the scholar mortgage debt, and failing to pay alimony as ordered.  It discovered that he was in arrears for $55,000 and entered judgment in opposition to him.  The husband appealed to the Tennessee Courtroom of Appeals.  He argued that the trial court docket erred find him in contempt, because the trial court docket had not correctly thought of his capacity to pay.

The appeals court docket started by noting that one of many important parts of civil contempt is that the conduct be willful.  Willfulness requires that the individual have the power to pay on the time the duty was due. 

The decrease court docket had said that the husband’s violation was willful.  However there was no discovering in regards to the husband’s capacity to pay.  There was no clarification as to why the trial court docket had discovered the failure to be willful.

In truth, the trial court docket had even famous that the husband’s monetary scenario was dire and his revenue was considerably lower than it had been earlier than.  These findings supported a conclusion that the husband was not capable of pay.

As a result of there was no categorical discovering as to capacity to pay, the discovering of willfulness, and the holding that the husband was in contempt, weren’t supported.

The court docket additionally held that the decrease court docket ought to put together findings explaining its reasoning for awarding lawyer’s charges to the spouse.  And because the husband prevailed on the enchantment, the court docket denied the spouse’s request for lawyer’s charges on enchantment.

For these causes, the Courtroom of Appeals vacated the decrease court docket’s order and remanded the case.

No. E2020–00599-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. June 15,  2021).

See authentic opinion for precise language.  Authorized citations omitted.

To be taught extra, see The Tennessee Divorce Process: How Divorces Work Start to Finish.

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