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DIVORCE 1: Is your ex-spouse not complying with the judgement of divorce?

Plaintiff ex-wife appeals trial court’s order awarding defendant ex-husband over $22,000 in attorney fees and costs incurred by defendant in addressing plaintiff’s contempt of court for violation of the parties’ divorce judgment.

The parties were married on December 31, 1992. Three children were born of the marriage. In June 2014, plaintiff filed for divorce. A consent judgment of divorce that incorporated the terms and conditions of the settlement agreement was entered in June 2015. Two of the parties’ children were no longer minors, and the parties were awarded joint legal custody of their youngest child, with plaintiff being awarded primary physical custody of the child and defendant being awarded parenting time.

The judgment of divorce provided for the cottage in Michigan to be awarded to Defendant husband free and clear of any claims of Plaintiff wife, however, this is subject to him immediately listing the cottage for sale and applying 100% of the proceeds towards paying down the existing outstanding income tax liabilities.  Defendant shall present proof to Plaintiff that the property has been listed, and that all proceeds received from the sale thereof are going towards the payment of the Internal Revenue Service and State of Michigan tax liabilities. Plaintiff shall turn over all keys to the cottage within seven (7) days of Judgment. Plaintiff does not have the right to use the cottage pending sale.

Defendant testified that he placed the cottage for sale as ordered in the divorce judgment and that within 24 hours he sold the property. A purchase agreement was executed. Defendant testified that he used a realtor to sell the cottage and that a YouTube video of the home had been produced by realtor as part of the effort to sell the cottage. According to defendant, plaintiff placed comments on YouTube relative to the cottage, indicating that the cottage was not for sale, that the ad should be taken down, and that it was her cottage. Defendant testified that, after entry of the divorce judgment, plaintiff had been to the cottage, that she changed the cottage’s locks, that she removed a lock box, and that she had accessed the cottage with the parties’ children, who informed defendant of this fact after first denying it to their father.

With respect to the parties’ minor child, who was 12 years old at the time of the hearing, defendant testified that he kept coming up with excuses not to see or visit defendant, which defendant attributed to plaintiff’s misconduct. Defendant indicated that plaintiff would not give defendant permission to see the minor child on multiple occasions following entry of the divorce judgment. According to defendant, since entry of the judgment, plaintiff had not cooperated at all with defendant in scheduling parenting time. In a text message, that was admitted into evidence, plaintiff informed defendant as follows: You do not have my permission to see the child tomorrow either. Until my purchase is completed of my home (cottage). See you in court.

The trial court found plaintiff in contempt of court. The trial court found without doubt, without hesitation, and without question that plaintiff attempted to undermine the real estate transaction.  The court determined that plaintiff had attempted to interfere with the sale of the cottage and had violated the judgment of divorce as it pertained to the cottage. The trial court also found that plaintiff had deliberately interfered with the minor child’s relationship with defendant and that plaintiff was in contempt of court for violating the divorce judgment’s parenting time provisions.

There was overwhelming evidence that plaintiff violated the divorce judgment and was in contempt of court and that defendant incurred legal expenses, as necessary to obtain plaintiff’s compliance with the divorce judgment, to close on the cottage’s sale, and to procure parenting time. Attorney fees and expenses are recoverable under MCR 3.206(C)(2)(b). The trial court did not err in holding plaintiff in contempt of court, nor did the court err in awarding defendant over $22,000 in attorney fees and costs associated with addressing plaintiff’s contemptuous conduct.

In divorce cases, including post-judgment proceedings, a party may request an order for the payment of attorney fees and expenses that were incurred because the other party refused to comply with a previous court order, despite having the ability to comply.

Our family law attorneys at Aldrich Legal Services have helped countless family law clients across southeast Michigan, including in Wayne, Washtenaw and Oakland counties, with court order compliance issues. Contact us at our law firm in Plymouth. We can help you. 

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