Court Grants Motion for Contempt Despite Ex-Husband’s Successful Motion to Modify Alimony

In a post judgment divorce action, an ex-husband was found in contempt of court for willfully failing to satisfy his alimony obligation, despite the fact that he filed, and ultimately prevailed on, a motion to modify that obligation.  The parties were divorced in 2003 following an uncontested hearing.  Per the parties’ divorce agreement, the ex-husband was obligated to pay alimony in the amount of $800 per week until his ex-wife reached the age of sixty-five.  The parties stipulated that said alimony obligation was non-modifiable as to term, but modifiable as to amount.  At the time of the divorce, the wife had secured a teaching position earning slightly above $30,000 annually.  The ex-husband’s financial affidavit indicated he was earning approximately $866 gross per week from self-employment.

Following the parties’ divorce, the ex-husband closed his broker/dealer business, as well as a financial planning business.  Although he owned several pieces of real property, the ex-husband was in arrears on mortgage payments associated with one home, and had very little, if any, equity in other properties.  Additionally, the ex-husband owned a local restaurant for which he owed tens of thousands of dollars in un-paid taxes.  At the time of the post judgment hearing, the ex-husband’s updated financial affidavit indicated he was earning just over $2,000 gross per week.  The ex-wife’s financial affidavit indicated she was earning $71,000 gross per year from her teaching position.

In reviewing the legal standard governing motions for contempt, the Court noted that it may not find a person in contempt without considering the circumstances surrounding the violation to determine whether such violation was willful.  However, even where a party is unable to meet his or her financial obligations, a party may not engage in self-help.  Orders of the court are to be obeyed until modified or successfully challenged.

In this particular case, the Court found that the ex-husband failed to make a reasonable effort to pay even part of his alimony obligation, despite income he was receiving from consulting work.  As the Court pointed out, he owed forty-eight weeks of alimony as of May, 2012.  Even though the ex-husband filed a motion to modify his alimony obligation, which the Court ultimately granted, it nevertheless penalized the ex-husband for his noncompliance.  In fact, in addition to ordering the ex-husband to pay the ex-wife’s counsel fees, it ordered him to pay $3,000 as a sanction for his failure to comply with the Judge’s original order.

Should you have any questions regarding matrimonial matters, please do not hesitate to contact Joseph C. Maya. He can be reached by telephone in the firm’s Westport office at (203) 221-3100 or by e-mail at jmaya@mayalaw.com. Call today to schedule a free initial consultation.