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Tag: contempt

State v. Mason – 2021 UT App 41

State v. Mason – 2021 UT App 41

THE UTAH COURT OF APPEALS

STATE OF UTAH, Appellee,

v.

VON DEL MASON JR., Appellant.

Opinion

No. 20190618-CA

Filed April 8, 2021

Fifth District Court, Cedar City Department

The Honorable Matthew L. Bell

No. 190500085

Emily Adams, Freyja Johnson, and Cherise Bacalski,
Attorneys for Appellant

Brent M. Johnson, Attorney for Appellee

JUDGE MICHELE M. CHRISTIANSEN FORSTER authored this Opinion, in which JUDGES GREGORY K. ORME and RYAN M. HARRIS concurred.

CHRISTIANSEN FORSTER, Judge:

¶1 Von Del Mason Jr. appeals the district court’s order finding him in contempt. We affirm.

BACKGROUND

¶2 Mason and his ex-wife, who were embroiled in contentious post-divorce proceedings, attended a hearing regarding the ex-wife’s relocation to Arizona. Before the judge ruled, he told the parties, “I don’t want any talking to each other. I’m not open for any debate. . . . I’ll give you my ruling and we can all leave, whatever your opinion is about it.” After the judge

made his ruling, which was adverse to Mason, he announced, “[W]e are adjourned.” Immediately thereafter Mason proclaimed to the judge, “You are a disingenuous, intellectual liar.” Following that statement, the court recording was turned off for approximately one minute. However, in a written order entered that same day, the judge recited that during that break “[s]everal times the court suggested that Mr. Mason should stop talking” and later “instructed Mr. Mason to stop talking, but he continued with similar accusations and disrespectful comments.” When the recording was turned back on, the following exchange took place:

Mr. Mason: That’s the truth, sir. And I have every right to tell you that.

The Court: Mr. Mason, you are in contempt.

Mr. Mason: Go figure.

The Court: I don’t appreciate—

Mr. Mason: I don’t appreciate you. You’re not— you’re dishonest.

. . . .

The Court: —you’re trying to make this personal.

Mr. Mason: No, you’ve made it personal, sir. You said this was your courtroom. This is not your courtroom, sir. You have a job. You were an antitrust lawyer.

The Court: I told you repeatedly to stop talking. You’re not listening. You are in contempt. I’m tired of it.

. . . .

Mr. Mason: You’re a disingenuous liar, sir.

The Court: You are in contempt.

Mr. Mason: Okay. Enjoy it.

¶3        Based on Mason’s behavior in its presence, the judge found Mason “guilty of contempt pursuant to Utah Code 78B-6­301(1) and (5)” for disrupting its proceedings and disobeying its order to stop talking and sentenced him to forty-eight hours in jail. The next day, however, the court “suspend[ed] the balance of the jail time” and ordered Mason released from jail. Mason now appeals his contempt conviction.

ISSUES AND STANDARDS OF REVIEW

¶4 As a threshold issue, we must determine whether Mason’s appeal is moot in light of the fact that he has already completed his sentence. If “the requested relief cannot affect the rights of the litigants, the matter is moot and we will not consider it.” Gardiner v. York, 2010 UT App 108, ¶ 30, 233 P.3d 500 (quotation simplified). And we consider the issue of mootness as a question of law. See State v. Legg, 2018 UT 12, ¶ 12, 417 P.3d 592 (explaining that mootness is reviewed “de novo”).

¶5        Mason raises several substantive challenges to the district court’s contempt order. First, he asserts that the court denied his right to counsel. Next, Mason asserts that he could not be held in contempt for statements he made after the court had adjourned and that the court exceeded its discretion in holding him in contempt because the court did not impose a clear order. Mason did not preserve these issues for our review, but he asks that we nevertheless review them for plain error and exceptional circumstances.

¶6        Normally, “[w]hen a party fails to raise and argue an issue in the trial court, it has failed to preserve the issue, and an appellate court will not typically reach that issue absent a valid exception to preservation.” State v. Johnson, 2017 UT 76, ¶ 15, 416 P.3d 443. Plain error and exceptional circumstances are such exceptions. However, here the State raised the issue of mootness and briefed Mason’s challenges to the court’s contempt order on their merits. And as discussed below, we agree with the State that the issues Mason raises fail on their merits. Where this is the case, we possess the discretion to reject claims on their merits, even when those claims have not been properly preserved. See State v. Kitches, 2021 UT App 24, ¶¶ 27–28. We elect to exercise that discretion here, and after first determining that Mason’s appeal is not moot, we address, and reject, Mason’s claims on their merits.

ANALYSIS

  1. Mason’s Appeal Is Not Moot

¶7        “A challenge to a conviction of criminal contempt is not moot if there is a possibility that collateral legal consequences may result from the conviction.” Gardiner v. York, 2010 UT App 108, ¶ 33, 233 P.3d 500. The State maintains that there is no possibility of collateral legal consequences, asserting that a criminal contempt conviction will not appear in Mason’s criminal record and is not the type of criminal conviction that can be used for impeachment purposes. However, even assuming, without deciding, that the State’s assertions are correct, the State does not respond to Mason’s argument that “because this criminal contempt conviction comes in the midst of a family law case where child custody is involved, a record of criminal contempt may affect future decisions on custody.” Cf. State v. C.H., 2008 UT App 404U, para. 2 (explaining that a criminal contempt conviction may have “ramifications on future investigations or adjudications by the Division of Child and Family Services” and could therefore affect a person’s right to parent their children). “The burden of persuading the court that an issue is moot lies with the party asserting mootness,” State v. Legg, 2016 UT App 168, ¶ 9, 380 P.3d 360 (quotation simplified), aff’d, 2018 UT 12, 417 P.3d 592, and we cannot say with certainty that Mason’s contempt conviction could have no possible impact on future child custody determinations or in future encounters with the legal system. Thus, we agree with Mason that this appeal is not moot.[1]

  1. Mason Was Not Entitled to the Appointment of Counsel in a Direct Contempt Summary Proceeding

¶8 Mason argues that the district court improperly denied his right to be represented by counsel during the proceeding in which it found him in contempt and imposed a sanction. Mason argues that he was entitled to the assistance of counsel in these criminal contempt proceedings and that the court’s failure to advise him of that right or to facilitate the appointment of counsel violated his constitutional rights and prevented him from adequately challenging the merits of the contempt finding. Although a defendant in most criminal proceedings—including many criminal contempt proceedings—generally has the right to counsel, see Turner v. Rogers, 564 U.S. 431, 441 (2011); United States v. Dixon, 509 U.S. 688, 696 (1993), the Supreme Court previously held, in Cooke v. United States, 267 U.S. 517 (1925), that such a right does not exist in summary criminal contempt proceedings involving conduct committed in the presence of the judge, see id. at 534 (“There is no need of evidence or assistance of counsel before punishment, because the court has seen the offense. Such summary vindication of the court’s dignity and authority is necessary.”).

¶9        Mason asserts that subsequent Supreme Court case law acknowledging that “[c]riminal contempt is a crime in the ordinary sense” and that “criminal penalties may not be imposed on someone who has not been afforded the protections that the Constitution requires of such criminal proceedings,” International Union, United Mine Workers of Am. v. Bagwell, 512 U.S. 821, 826 (1994) (quotation simplified); see also Argersinger v. Hamlin, 407 U.S. 25, 37 (1972) (“[A]bsent a knowing and intelligent waiver, no person may be imprisoned for any offense, whether classified as petty, misdemeanor, or felony, unless he was represented by counsel at his trial.”), should be interpreted as repudiating the Court’s previous position that the appointment of counsel is not required in summary criminal contempt proceedings. However, the Supreme Court has continued to reaffirm the exception for summary criminal contempt. See Turner, 564 U.S. at 441 (citing Cooke with approval and stating that “an indigent defendant [has] the right to state-appointed counsel in . . . criminal contempt proceedings (other than summary proceedings)” (quotation simplified)); Dixon, 509 U.S. at 696 (explaining that “constitutional protections for criminal defendants,” including the right to the assistance of counsel, “apply in nonsummary criminal contempt prosecutions just as they do in other criminal prosecutions” (emphasis added)). Although these more recent holdings may not address the issue head-on, the Court’s continued reference to the exception without repudiating Cooke leaves us with no basis, under the federal constitution, for recognizing a constitutional right to the assistance of counsel in summary criminal contempt proceedings. Because Mason had no right to counsel, the court could not have erred by not informing him of such a right or by choosing not to appoint counsel to assist him in the summary proceeding.

III. We Reject Mason’s Challenges to the Court’s Contempt Finding

¶10 The court found Mason in contempt based on both subsections (1) and (5) of Utah Code section 78B-6-301. Mason raises challenges with respect to the court’s findings under both provisions.

  1. The Court Did Not Err by Holding Mason in Contempt After Stating That Proceedings Were Adjourned

¶11      In his challenge to the contempt order, Mason asserts on appeal that the court erred in holding him in contempt under Utah Code section 78B-6-301(1), because his comments occurred after the judge had stated that proceedings were adjourned. That subsection defines contempt as “disorderly, contemptuous, or insolent behavior toward the judge while holding the court, tending to interrupt the course of a trial or other judicial proceeding.” Utah Code Ann. § 78B-6-301(1) (LexisNexis 2018) (emphasis added). Mason asserts that the plain language of subsection (1) limits the definition of contemptuous behavior to “behavior that occurs during a formal court proceeding, not after it has adjourned.” He maintains that because the judge had announced, “[W]e are adjourned,” before Mason’s statements, the judge was no longer “holding the court” and that Mason’s actions therefore could not have “interrupt[ed] the course of a trial or other judicial proceeding.” Id.

¶12 We disagree with Mason’s formalistic interpretation of what constitutes a judicial proceeding or “holding the court.” We acknowledge Mason’s assertion that disorderly or insolent behavior toward a judge outside of court cannot justify a finding of contempt under subsection (1) of the contempt statute. See Robinson v. City Court, 185 P.2d 256, 257–58 (Utah 1947) (overturning a contempt conviction based on behavior that occurred while the contemnor and the judge were near or in a courthouse elevator because “[t]he judge was not holding court, he had already adjourned the morning session, he was on his way out of the building, and no trial or other judicial proceedings were then in progress”). But we do not agree that the contempt statute should be so rigidly interpreted in a situation involving a litigant who engages in contemptuous behavior while in the courtroom and directly before the judge. See Commonwealth v. Williams, 2000 PA Super 165, ¶¶ 5, 21–24, 753 A.2d 856 (rejecting the defendant’s assertion that his action of “raising his middle finger and stating, ‘F—k You’” to the judge as he “was being led from the courtroom” could not have obstructed the administration of justice, explaining that his actions “belittl[ed] the entire process of the administration of justice” and that “had the Court not acted in response to the [defendant’s] actions it would have eroded the Court’s authority in the eyes of all those present”); Rhoad v. State, 641 S.E.2d 35, 37 (S.C. Ct. App. 2007) (explaining that a finding of direct contempt against a defendant who made an obscene gesture to his trial counsel on his way out of the courtroom was justified because “[r]egardless of whether [the defendant’s] hearing had concluded, [the defendant] failed to show proper decorum in the courtroom and exhibited a disrespect for the court”).

¶13 Here, although the adjournment of the hearing had been announced, the court proceedings had not actually concluded. See Williams, 2000 PA Super 165, ¶ 22 (“Court proceedings are concluded after the defendant leaves the courtroom, the trial judge goes to the next case or adjourns court and leaves the courtroom.” (emphasis added) (quotation simplified)). Mason’s conduct occurred in the courtroom while the judge was still on the bench,[2] and he made his comments, directed at the judge, immediately after the judge announced the adjournment of the hearing but before adjournment had been accomplished. Simply stating that court was adjourned was not equivalent to being out of court. Nor did the court’s interest in maintaining order evaporate simply because it had announced the adjournment of Mason’s hearing.[3] “It is essential to the proper administration of . . . justice that dignity, order, and decorum be the hallmarks of all court proceedings in our country. The flagrant disregard in the courtroom of elementary standards of proper conduct should not and cannot be tolerated.” Illinois v. Allen, 397 U.S. 337, 343 (1970). Because Mason’s conduct fell within subsection (1)’s definition of contempt, the court’s contempt finding was not error.

  1. Mason Cannot Demonstrate That the Court Abused Its Discretion in Finding That He Had Disobeyed a Court Order

¶14 Mason also maintains that the court abused its discretion by finding him in contempt under Utah Code section 78B-6­301(5). Under that subsection, a person can be held in contempt for “disobedience of any lawful judgment, order or process of the court.” Utah Code Ann. § 78B-6-301(5) (LexisNexis 2018). “[T]o prove contempt for failure to comply with a court order it must be shown that the person cited for contempt knew what was required, had the ability to comply, and intentionally failed or refused to do so.” Von Hake v. Thomas, 759 P.2d 1162, 1172 (Utah 1988). Mason asserts that the judge did not clearly order him to stop talking and therefore could not properly hold him in contempt for talking.

¶15 In his written contempt order, the judge described his earlier verbal orders to Mason by stating that he had “instructed the parties . . . that there should be no talking despite what either side thought of the court’s decision” and that after Mason began making “disrespectful comments toward the court,” the judge “suggested that Mr. Mason should stop talking” and “instructed Mr. Mason to stop talking.” Mason points out that before issuing his ruling, the judge actually ordered the parties not to talk to each other rather than ordering them not to talk at all. Thus, he maintains that the order was unclear as to what he was required to do. See id.

¶16 But even accepting Mason’s argument regarding the judge’s initial order not to talk, the record shows that after Mason began making disrespectful comments, the judge “instructed” Mason not to talk anymore. Nevertheless, Mason “continued with similar accusations and disrespectful comments even after he was taken into custody by bailiffs.” It was this behavior that the judge identified as disobedience to “the court’s order to stop.” We agree with the State that Mason’s disregard of the judge’s instruction to stop talking after he had begun could constitute contempt, and we cannot say that the court abused its discretion by finding Mason in contempt on that basis. Moreover, because a district court has discretion to deal with contemptuous actions occurring in its presence, the judge did not have to let Mason “wear himself out” before imposing a sanction. In addition, even if there had been error in the court’s contempt finding under section 78B-6-301(5), it would have been harmless in light of the additional grounds for contempt it found under section 78B-6-301(1). See supra ¶¶ 11–13.

CONCLUSION

¶17 Although we determine that this appeal is not moot, we conclude that a person accused of direct contempt, committed in the presence of the court, is not entitled to the appointment of counsel in a summary contempt proceeding. Further, the district court did not abuse its discretion in holding Mason in contempt for his insolent behavior under the facts presented here. Accordingly, we affirm the district court’s contempt order.

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

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Allen v. Allen – 2021 UT App 20 – custody, alimony, child support

Allen v. Allen – 2021 UT App 20
http://www.utcourts.gov/opinions/view.html?court=appopin&opinion=Allen v. Allen20210225_20190369_20.pdf

2021 UT App 20
THE UTAH COURT OF APPEALS
REBECCA ELLEN ALLEN, Appellee,
v.
KENT DARIUS ALLEN,Appellant.
Opinion
No. 20190369-CA
Filed February 25, 2021
Third District Court, Salt Lake Department
The Honorable Amber M. Mettler
No. 154906438
Sara Pfrommer and Kathleen McConkie, Attorneys for Appellant
Russell Yauney, Attorney for Appellee

JUDGE JILL M. POHLMAN authored this Opinion, in which JUDGES GREGORY K. ORME and DAVID N. MORTENSEN concurred.

POHLMAN, Judge:

¶1 Kent Darius Allen appeals the district court’s supplemental divorce decree in his divorce from Rebecca Ellen Allen. Kent[1] contends that the court erred in finding him in contempt and in its determinations regarding alimony, child support, and child custody. We reject his arguments and affirm.

BACKGROUND

¶2      Kent and Rebecca were married in 2004 and have five minor children. They separated in September 2014, when Rebecca moved to Utah with the children and Kent stayed in Texas. During this time, Rebecca worked part-time and provided full-time care for the children, while Kent did not work but received disability payments based on a 100% disability rating from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

¶3      Rebecca filed for divorce in Utah in October 2015. Kent moved to Utah in the spring of 2016. Early in the litigation, in July 2016, Rebecca moved for an award of half of retroactive benefits Kent received from the VA. Rebecca claimed she was entitled to $56,171 of those benefits as rehabilitative spousal support. In responding to the motion, Kent filed a declaration in which he did not dispute receipt of the VA benefits. And in his August 2016 financial declaration, Kent acknowledged receiving around $89,900 as a “VA Disability Settlement minus attorney fees.”

¶4      A domestic relations commissioner conducted a hearing in August 2016. The commissioner recommended, among other things, that Kent and Rebecca have temporary joint legal custody of their children and that Rebecca have temporary physical custody. The commissioner also recommended that Kent pay Rebecca $44,500 from the VA benefits and around $1,200 in monthly child support. These recommendations were memorialized in a temporary order entered and counter-signed by the district court in October 2016 (the Temporary Order).

¶5      Kent objected to the Temporary Order. The district court held a hearing on November 3, 2016, in which it overruled the objection and adopted the commissioner’s recommendation. It also ordered Kent to pay Rebecca her share of the VA benefits “within 30 days.”

¶6      On December 9, 2016, Rebecca moved for an order to show cause, asserting, among other things, that Kent was in contempt for not complying with the court’s order to pay her portion of the VA benefits. Rebecca thus asked for a judgment against Kent in the amount of $44,500. After a hearing, the commissioner entered an order certifying the issue of contempt for Kent’s “failure to pay the spousal support award of [$44,500]” as required by the Temporary Order. The commissioner’s order also stated that a “judgment in the amount of [$44,500] for spousal support arrears shall enter for the period of October 28, 2016, through March 2, 2017” (the Judgment).[2] The district court counter-signed the Judgment.

¶7      In May 2017, Rebecca filed another motion for an order to show cause, asserting that Kent should be held in contempt for failing to pay child support between December 2016 and April 2017. Kent responded that he had already paid $11,294 of his social security benefits to Rebecca and that those funds covered his child support obligation for the time period at issue as well as for four additional months. After hearing argument, the commissioner certified the issue of Kent’s alleged contempt. The commissioner also ordered entry of judgment against Kent for $4,792 in past-due child support from December 2016 through May 2017. The court counter-signed the order entering judgment for $4,792.

¶8      Rebecca filed yet another motion for an order to show cause in October 2017, this time asserting that Kent had not paid child support from June to September 2017. After a hearing, the commissioner certified the contempt issue and awarded judgment to Rebecca for $4,722 in past-due child support for the months of June through November 2017. The court counter­signed this order. Consequently, Kent had accumulated judgments against him totaling $54,014 for unpaid child support and retroactive spousal support.

¶9      Meanwhile, Kent filed various motions in which he argued that the division of his VA benefits, as ordered in the Temporary Order, was impermissible under federal law and that the $44,500 Judgment should be vacated. The commissioner had certified the issue for trial, but before trial, the district court concluded that the VA benefits can be used for spousal support and, therefore, there was no basis to vacate the Judgment.

¶10 The court entered a bifurcated divorce decree in August 2017. The issues of child support, custody, and contempt were tried to the bench in 2018. Additionally, at trial, Kent once again argued that the Judgment should be vacated. He proposed “two ways to fight that judgment.” First, he renewed his argument that his VA benefits were beyond the court’s reach under federal law. Second, he objected to characterizing the $44,500 award in the Judgment as spousal support because “the court has engaged in none of the analysis required to determine a reasonable amount for spousal support or to make such [an] award.” As for Rebecca, she clarified that she was not asking for “future spousal support” but that she “expected that judgment to be enforced.”

¶11    Rebecca and Kent each testified at trial. Notably, the court found Rebecca “to be highly credible,” while it found Kent “not to be credible” based on his “testimony, conduct, and a series of inconsistencies.”

¶12 With regard to the Judgment, the court disagreed with Kent’s argument that it was erroneous for $44,500 in spousal support to remain in effect unless the court conducted an analysis of Rebecca’s needs and his ability to pay. It explained,

There was a court order requiring [Kent] to pay [Rebecca] $44,500. [Kent] did not do so. Judgment was, therefore, appropriately entered against [Kent]. This Court need not undergo any sort of analysis concerning the parties’ current financial needs or [Kent’s] ability to pay in order to permit the judgment to remain in effect.

The court also decided, in the alternative, that “[e]ven if . . . such an analysis was required,” Kent “had the ability to pay and that the needs analysis at the time of the hearing on the [motion] for temporary orders supported the $44,500 award to [Rebecca] and subsequent judgment against [Kent].” The court thus proceeded to compare, albeit briefly, Kent’s and Rebecca’s incomes and assets.

¶13    The court evaluated Rebecca’s assertion that Kent was in contempt for not paying the $44,500 from the VA benefits and not paying child support from December 2016 through September 2017. As an initial matter, the court determined that the Temporary Order requiring those payments was lawful. Then, in evaluating contempt, the court first found that Kent had the ability to comply with the Temporary Order at the time it was entered and had the present ability to comply with it. In support of this finding, the court rejected Kent’s assertion that he had spent all the VA benefits (nearly $90,000). The court also found that despite Kent’s “disability rating and the fact that he has not held a regular job in a number of years, the evidence at trial showed that [Kent] is physically and mentally able to work, yet he chooses not to.” The court further found that Kent had “access to significant financial support from his family which support could be used to help” Kent obtain employment or pay the outstanding amounts he owed. Second, the court found that Kent undisputedly “had knowledge of all the Court’s orders requiring him to pay [Rebecca] $44,500 from his VA past-due benefits and to pay child support.” Third, the court found that Kent had “deliberately chose[n] not to comply” with the orders when he “personally disagree[d]” with them but was “aware—at all times—of the Court’s orders and [its] repeated rejections of his arguments.”

¶14 The court thus held Kent in contempt, finding “beyond a reasonable doubt that, at all times, [Kent] knew what was required of him, had the ability to comply, and intentionally refused to do so.”[3] Indeed, the court found that his “disregard of the Court’s orders—including the multiple times the Court has rejected [his] arguments—was willful, deliberate, and intentional.”

¶15 As a sanction for his contempt, the court ordered Kent jailed for ten days, which sentence could be purged if Kent made certain payments toward child support and spousal support within sixty days and continued to make specified monthly payments thereafter. Additionally, the court ordered Kent to pay Rebecca’s attorney fees incurred “in prosecuting the request for entry of judgment and motions for contempt.”

¶16    The district court also awarded Rebecca sole physical and legal custody of the minor children, while Kent was awarded parent-time. In making this decision, the court considered several factors bearing on the best interests of the children. First, it found that the parties’ past conduct and moral standards favored Rebecca. It reasoned that Kent “testified untruthfully” and had “shown contemptuous disregard of the Court’s orders,” demonstrating that he was “willing to and ha[d] willfully disobeyed the law.” In the court’s view, this “type of conduct suggest[ed] questionable parenting, at best.” The court also reasoned that Kent’s “refusal—for years—to pay the spousal support award or the child support previously ordered . . . while [Rebecca] was struggling to provide for herself and the [children] demonstrate[d] a substantial indifference towards” the children. Although Kent claimed that he took care of the children “in other ways—not just financially, but physically, emotionally, and spiritually,” the court discredited his testimony on this point.

¶17    Next, the court factored in which parent was the primary caretaker and concluded that this factor also favored Rebecca, especially given that she undisputedly had been the children’s primary caretaker since the couple separated in September 2014. In considering this factor, the court found that Kent had “no in-person contact at all with the children” for over a year after they moved to Utah despite his financial ability to see the children in person. The court further found that the children were “well-cared for” and “flourishing with [Rebecca] as their primary caretaker” and that even after Kent moved to Utah, he had displayed “remarkably limited involvement” in the children’s lives. Next, the court considered the factor of the children’s bond with the parents. While the court did not find Kent’s testimony that he had “active involvement and participation” in the children’s lives to be credible, the court found that the evidence concerning Rebecca’s “strong relationship with the [children] was credible and overwhelming.” The court then weighed the factor of which parent was most likely to act in the children’s best interests in favor of Rebecca. The court based this determination on its findings that Rebecca “went out of her way not to speak negatively about” Kent at trial but that Kent made “accusations and insinuations” that Rebecca was an inattentive parent.

¶18    The court considered additional factors, including that the parties “have generally been able to cooperate with each other” even though Kent was “often unreliable.” It found that Kent was “less emotionally stable” than Rebecca and that “[Kent]—despite not being employed or in school—[had] knowingly and intentionally declined to take a more active role in the [children’s] lives.” Indeed, the court reiterated that Kent could have taken “a more active role” in their lives “but he [chose] not to.” Considering all these factors together, the court found by a preponderance of the evidence that awarding sole legal and physical custody to Rebecca, subject to Kent’s right to parent-time, was in the children’s best interests.

¶19 As for child support, the court found that Kent did not owe any child support arrearages before the Temporary Order was entered—the time period from September 2014 until July 2016. The court based this finding on the fact that Rebecca expressly disclaimed entitlement to child support arrearages prior to the Temporary Order. It also relied on the evidence at trial indicating that Kent “did make some payments . . . during this time period, although the amounts were inconsistent and disputed.”

¶20    But the court did determine that “for the period of August 2016 to March 2019,” Kent owed $18,732 in child support arrearages. Using the sole custody worksheet, the court calculated this amount using Kent’s $4,630.62 monthly income and Rebecca’s imputed $1,257 monthly income. In making its calculation, the court credited Kent with the $405 monthly amounts Rebecca received on behalf of the children from social security beginning in August 2016. While entering judgment of $18,732 in favor of Rebecca, the court simultaneously vacated the earlier judgments for overdue child support.

¶21 The court rejected Kent’s argument that he should be given credit for payments he made to Rebecca prior to the Temporary Order—payments he asserted would eliminate any alleged arrearages. The court reasoned that it would be “inappropriate to give [Kent] ‘credit’ for any supposed ‘overpayments’ given that (until now) there has not been a final Court order regarding child support.” It further reasoned that Kent had “an obligation to support his children and that obligation is ongoing and continuous” and that “[t]he presumption, therefore, should not be that [Kent] ‘overpaid,’ but that [Kent] paid whatever he could or desired to, given his ongoing obligation.”

¶22 On the matter of attorney fees, the court had already concluded that under Utah Code section 78B-6-311(1), as “an additional sanction for nonpayment,” Kent would have to pay Rebecca’s attorney fees incurred “in prosecuting the request for entry of judgment and motions for contempt.” The court declined to address whether to award attorney fees under Utah Code section 30-3-3 because the parties had stipulated to paying their own remaining fees.

¶23 The court entered its findings of fact and conclusions of law as well as a supplemental divorce decree. Kent appeals.

ISSUES AND STANDARDS OF REVIEW

¶24 Kent raises four issues on appeal. First, he contends that the district court erroneously awarded a lump sum to Rebecca as alimony without conducting the required alimony analysis. We ultimately do not reach the merits of this issue because Kent does not adequately challenge an independent alternative basis for the court’s decision. See Kendall v. Olsen, 2017 UT 38, ¶ 12, 424 P.3d 12.

¶25    Second, Kent contends that the district court should have given him credit toward his child support obligation. Because district courts have “broad discretion” in awarding child support and “in determining the financial interests of divorced parties,” we “will not disturb such decisions absent an abuse of discretion.” Roberts v. Roberts, 2014 UT App 211, ¶¶ 7–8, 335 P.3d 378 (cleaned up).

¶26 Third, Kent contends that the district court erred in finding him in contempt of court for failing to pay child support and the lump sum to Rebecca. When reviewing a district court’s decision finding a party in contempt, “we review the district court’s findings of fact for clear error and its legal determinations for correctness.” LD III LLC v. Davis, 2016 UT App 206, ¶ 12, 385 P.3d 689 (cleaned up).

¶27 Fourth, Kent contends that the district court erred in granting sole legal and physical custody of the children to Rebecca. “In custody matters, appellate courts generally give the district court considerable discretion because the district court’s proximity to the evidence places it in a better position than an appellate court to choose the best custody arrangement.” Dahl v. Dahl, 2015 UT 79, ¶ 155, 459 P.3d 276 (cleaned up). This broad discretion, however, “must be guided by the governing law adopted by the Utah Legislature.” Id. (cleaned up).

¶28    To the extent any of Kent’s contentions involve challenges to the district court’s factual findings, our “review of such findings is highly deferential, and we will reverse only if the findings are clearly erroneous.” Id. ¶ 149. “We give this deference to the district court because it stands in a superior position from which to evaluate and weigh the evidence and assess the credibility and accuracy of witnesses’ recollections.” Id. ¶ 173 (cleaned up). A district court’s factual findings “are clearly erroneous only if they are in conflict with the clear weight of the evidence, or if the court has a definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been made.” Taft v. Taft, 2016 UT App 135, ¶ 16, 379 P.3d 890 (cleaned up).

ANALYSIS

I. Lump Sum as Alimony

¶29 Kent first challenges the district court’s award of $44,500 in spousal support to Rebecca. In particular, Kent contends that the court abused its discretion by entering this award without “conduct[ing] the analysis required under Utah law to determine whether, and how much, spousal support should be” awarded.

¶30 Kent is correct that Utah law requires district courts to consider several factors, known as the Jones factors, when determining alimony. Those factors include “the financial condition and needs of the recipient spouse,” “the recipient’s earning capacity or ability to produce income,” and “the ability of the payor spouse to provide support.” Utah Code Ann. § 30-3-5(9)(a)(i)–(iii) (LexisNexis Supp. 2020);[4] see also Jones v. Jones, 700 P.2d 1072, 1075 (Utah 1985) (listing these three factors now codified in Utah Code section 30-3-5). Further, the “court must make sufficiently detailed findings of fact on each statutory factor.” Keyes v. Keyes, 2015 UT App 114, ¶ 33, 351 P.3d 90 (cleaned up).

¶31 The problem for Kent, however, is that the district court rejected his argument about the Jones analysis based on two independent grounds. And we “will not reverse a ruling of the district court that rests on independent alternative grounds where the appellant challenges only one of those grounds.” Kendall v. Olsen, 2017 UT 38, ¶ 12, 424 P.3d 12 (cleaned up).

¶32    Here, the district court first decided that because “[t]here was a court order requiring [Kent] to pay [Rebecca] $44,500” and he “did not do so,” the Judgment was “appropriately entered against [Kent]” and, as a result, the court “need not undergo any sort of analysis concerning the parties’ current financial needs or [Kent’s] ability to pay in order to permit the judgment to remain in effect.” Second, the court decided that even if such an analysis was required, Kent “had the ability to pay and that the needs analysis at the time of the hearing on . . . [the Temporary Order] supported the $44,500 award to [Rebecca] and subsequent judgment against [Kent].”

¶33    Although the district court rejected his argument on these two independent grounds, Kent’s appeal focuses only on the latter basis by arguing that the court inadequately analyzed the Jones factors at trial. His challenge to the former ground—that the Judgment requiring him to pay $44,500 was already appropriately entered against him—is limited to an assertion that the district court engaged in “circular reasoning” by concluding that “because Kent was ordered to pay before, there is no need to conduct the Jones analysis now.” But Kent has the burden to “identify and brief” his reasons for reversal, see id., and this terse assertion does not sufficiently address the effect of an order that had already been reduced to a judgment, nor does it show error in the court’s treatment of the Judgment, see generally Utah R. App. P. 24(a)(8) (setting forth the appellant’s burden to “explain, with reasoned analysis supported by citations to legal authority and the record, why the party should prevail on appeal”). Consequently, Kent effectively has challenged only one of the court’s independent grounds for its ruling, and we therefore are in no position to reverse the district court. See Kendall, 2017 UT 38, ¶ 12. Accordingly, we reject Kent’s challenge to the $44,500 award of spousal support without reaching the merits of the district court’s decision.[5]

II. Child Support

¶34 Next, Kent contends that the district court abused its discretion in determining that he is “more than $18,000 in arrears” with respect to child support for the period of August 2016 to March 2019. While acknowledging that he did not make any child support payments between November 2016 and December 2017, Kent argues that the court should have credited him with payments he made between December 2014 and July 2016, and with $11,294 paid to Rebecca in November 2016.

¶35 The district court declined to give Kent “credit” for any payments he made before the Temporary Order’s entry. In particular, the court deemed it “inappropriate” to give any credits when there had not yet been a final court order regarding child support. It explained that Kent had an “ongoing and continuous” obligation to support his children and that “[t]he presumption, therefore, should not be that [Kent] ‘overpaid,’ but that [Kent] paid whatever he could or desired to, given his ongoing obligation.” On appeal, Kent has not grappled with the court’s rationale, and because he has left the court’s basis for its decision unaddressed, we again conclude that he has not carried his burden to show error in that decision. See Sandusky v. Sandusky, 2018 UT App 34, ¶ 26, 417 P.3d 634 (rejecting an argument where the appellant did not address the basis for the district court’s decision).

¶36 As for the $11,294 paid to Rebecca in November 2016, Kent now contends that these funds were a social security benefit that should have been credited against his child support obligation.[6] In support, he cites Utah Code section 78B-12-203, which states that “[s]ocial security benefits received by a child due to the earnings of a parent shall be credited as child support to the parent upon whose earning record it is based, by crediting the amount against the potential obligation of that parent.” Utah Code Ann. § 78B-12-203(9)(b) (LexisNexis 2018).

¶37 But Kent has not shown, as he must, that he preserved this issue for appeal. To preserve an issue, it “must be presented to the trial court in such a way that the trial court has an opportunity to rule on that issue.” Taft v. Taft, 2016 UT App 135, ¶ 35, 379 P.3d 890 (cleaned up). Thus, “the issue must be specifically raised by the party asserting error, in a timely manner, and must be supported by evidence and relevant legal authority.” Warrick v. Property Reserve Inc., 2018 UT App 197, ¶ 12, 437 P.3d 439 (cleaned up). “Issues that are not raised at trial are usually deemed waived.” Wohnoutka v. Kelley, 2014 UT App 154, ¶ 3, 330 P.3d 762 (cleaned up). Further, an appellant’s brief must contain “citation to the record showing that the issue was preserved for review” or “a statement of grounds for seeking review of an issue not preserved.” Utah R. App. P. 24(a)(5)(B).

¶38    To demonstrate that he preserved the issue regarding the $11,294 and section 78B-12-203, Kent cites one page of his response to one of Rebecca’s motions for an order to show cause. There, Kent quoted the statute and stated that the social security benefits Rebecca received from his employment “is all to be credited as child support payments.” But this document was filed over a year and a half before trial, and Kent did not again address section 78B-12-203 in his trial brief or in his supplemental trial brief—even when discussing the $11,294 payment. As a result, and despite an earlier attempt to raise the issue, Kent did not raise the issue in a timely manner such that the district court had an opportunity to consider it at the time the court was resolving the child support issues at trial. Kent thus did not preserve this issue regarding section 78B-12-203 and we do not consider it further.

¶39    Kent also complains that the court used the sole custody worksheet in calculating child support arrearages. He claims this calculation was erroneous because he had “joint custody” under the Temporary Order. Although the Temporary Order gave “joint legal custody” to both parties, it gave “temporary physical custody” to Rebecca. In other words, the Temporary Order gave Rebecca sole physical custody of the children. Because the custody worksheet for purposes of child support is based on physical, not legal, custody, we perceive no error in the court’s use of the sole custody worksheet. Cf. Burggraaf v. Burggraaf, 2019 UT App 195, ¶¶ 34–35, 455 P.3d 1071 (seeing no error in the court’s use of the sole custody worksheet where the mother had sole physical custody in practice).

¶40 For the foregoing reasons, Kent has not shown that the district court abused its discretion in holding him accountable for $18,732 in child support arrearages.

III. Contempt

¶41 Kent contends that the district court erred in finding him in contempt based on his failure to comply with the orders to pay child support and $44,500 to Rebecca. “A finding of contempt is proper only when the person cited for contempt knew what was required, had the ability to comply, and intentionally failed or refused to do so.” LD III LLC v. Davis, 2016 UT App 206, ¶ 13, 385 P.3d 689 (cleaned up).

¶42 Kent’s contention on appeal centers on only one of the relevant factors: his ability to comply with the court’s orders.[7] More specifically, he focuses on the court’s findings regarding his ability to pay. In so arguing, he maintains that “he cannot give Rebecca the ordered $44,500 because he does not have it; he used it for his own needs with respect to housing and other related items when he moved.” He also argues that the court erred in finding that he had the ability to work despite his 100% disability rating.

¶43    Kent testified that he had spent all the VA benefits (nearly $90,000) by the time of the hearing on the Temporary Order. But the district court found that this claim was “false” and contrary to Kent’s representations to the commissioner. The court also found that Kent’s “claim that he needed to spend all $90,000 on furnishing his new residence and other household expenses in Utah is simply not credible.” Kent asserts that the court’s credibility determination in this regard is “based on no evidence at all” when Rebecca introduced “no evidence to counter Kent’s testimony that he had spent” all the VA benefits. But the court was “not required to believe [Kent] simply because he presented more evidence than [Rebecca] or because [she] did not directly contradict his . . . testimony.” See Sauer v. Sauer, 2017 UT App 114, ¶ 6, 400 P.3d 1204. Indeed, “we give great deference to a trial court’s determinations of credibility based on the presumption that the trial judge, having personally observed the quality of the evidence, the tenor of the proceedings, and the demeanor of the parties, is in a better position to perceive the subtleties at issue than we can looking only at the cold record.” Id. (cleaned up). Kent has not shown that we should deviate from the considerable deference we owe to the district court’s factual findings.

¶44    Kent also claimed in the district court that he is unable to work based on his 100% disability rating. But the court rejected this claim, finding that Kent presented “no corroborating evidence other than” hearsay statements. It also found that despite Kent’s “disability rating and the fact that he has not held a regular job in a number of years, the evidence at trial showed that [Kent] is physically and mentally able to work, yet he chooses not to.” The court based this finding on testimony that Kent, “whatever his limitations might be, leads an active lifestyle,” including swimming, hiking, and taking jiu-jitsu classes. In Kent’s view, the court relied on “random incidents” and had no evidence that he “was able to work any kind of job.” But Kent’s cursory argument does not show how the court’s factual findings were “in conflict with the clear weight of the evidence” and does not convince us that “a mistake has been made.” See Taft v. Taft, 2016 UT App 135, ¶ 16, 379 P.3d 890 (cleaned up).

¶45 Kent also suggests that his 100% disability rating precluded the district court from finding him able to work, and he implies that the court’s finding might jeopardize his disability benefits. But because he provides little legal authority and analysis to support these suggestions, he has not carried his burden to establish error. See Utah R. App. P. 24(a)(8) (“The argument must explain, with reasoned analysis supported by citations to legal authority and the record, why the party should prevail on appeal.”). For these reasons, we conclude that Kent has not shown error in the district court’s decision finding him in contempt.

IV. Child Custody

¶46 Kent next contends that the district court erred in granting sole legal and physical custody of the children to Rebecca. In so arguing, Kent stresses that the court based its decision “in large part” on its belief and “misplaced anger” that “Kent exhibited poor moral character by failing to pay child support” as ordered. He also maintains that he overpaid on child support.

¶47    In determining custody, the court “shall consider the best interest of the child” and, in doing so, may consider any factors it deems relevant. Utah Code Ann. § 30-3-10(2) (LexisNexis Supp. 2020). The Utah Code identifies a number of potentially relevant factors, including but not limited to “the parent’s capacity and willingness to function as a parent,” “the past conduct and demonstrated moral character of the parent,” the “emotional stability of the parent,” the “parent’s financial responsibility,” “who has been the primary caretaker of the child,” and the “relative strength of the child’s bond with the parent, meaning the depth, quality, and nature of the relationship between the parent and the child.” Id.; see also id. § 30-3-10.2 (2019) (setting forth similar factors for consideration in determining whether the child’s best interest would be served by ordering joint legal custody or joint physical custody).

¶48 In this case, Kent overlooks that the district court conducted a detailed analysis of many of the custody factors. See supra ¶¶ 16–18. On appeal he does not assail the majority of that analysis; instead, as stated, he limits his challenge to the court’s inclusion of his history of nonpayment of child support. And he has not persuaded us that the court was wrong to consider his failure to pay child support in its analysis.[8] Moreover, while Kent believes that the court’s custody decision was driven by its consideration of his nonpayment, he has not established that this factor overwhelmed the rest of the custody factors. Simply put, nothing in the court’s analysis or Kent’s argument persuades us that the court erred in making its custody decision.

V. Attorney Fees on Appeal

¶49 Finally, Rebecca requests that this court award her attorney fees on appeal on two grounds. First, Rebecca asserts that the district court awarded her attorney fees related to Kent’s contempt with respect to the $44,500 and child support and that she is thus entitled to attorney fees on appeal for defending the appeal on that issue. Second, Rebecca asks this court to remand for the district court to make findings under Utah Code section 30-3-3 to support an award of attorney fees to her for all issues on appeal.

¶50    Generally, “attorney fees are awardable only if authorized by statute or by contract.” Greyhound Lines, Inc. v. Utah Transit Auth., 2020 UT App 144, ¶ 55, 477 P.3d 472 (cleaned up). This court ordinarily will award appellate attorney fees “when a party was awarded fees and costs below and then prevails on appeal.” Tobler v. Tobler, 2014 UT App 239, ¶ 48, 337 P.3d 296. Because the district court awarded Rebecca attorney fees related to her “request for entry of judgment and motions for contempt” pursuant to statute under Utah Code section 78B-6-311(1) and because she has prevailed on that issue on appeal, see supra ¶¶ 41–45, we grant her request for appellate fees related to that one issue. See Tobler, 2014 UT App 239, ¶ 48; cf. Telegraph Tower LLC v. Century Mortgage LLC, 2016 UT App 102, ¶ 52, 376 P.3d 333 (awarding appellate attorney fees on the single issue on which appellees prevailed below and successfully defended on appeal); Macris v. Sevea Int’l, Inc., 2013 UT App 176, ¶ 53, 307 P.3d 625 (awarding partial attorney fees on appeal for the issues on which the appellee was successful on appeal). We thus remand this case to the district court to calculate Rebecca’s reasonable attorney fees incurred in defending that issue on appeal.

¶51 As for Rebecca’s suggestion that she could be “entitled to attorney fees for the entirety of the appeal” under Utah Code section 30-3-3, we conclude that she is not entitled to such an award. The parties stipulated to paying their own attorney fees incurred during the district court proceedings, and the district court expressly declined to consider whether to award fees under Utah Code section 30-3-3. Because the district court did not award attorney fees based on section 30-3-3 to Rebecca below and because she has not otherwise established that she should be awarded her remaining attorney fees on appeal, see Tobler, 2014 UT App 239, ¶ 48, we decline Rebecca’s invitation to instruct the district court to analyze her general claim for appellate attorney fees.

CONCLUSION

¶52 Kent has not established error in the district court’s decisions. Accordingly, we affirm the supplemental decree, but we remand to the district court for the limited purpose of calculating Rebecca’s attorney fees reasonably incurred on appeal, insofar as they are related to the issue of contempt.

[1] Because the parties share the same last name, we refer to each by their first name, with no disrespect intended by the apparent informality.

[2]  The Judgment was “inadvertently entered in the amount of $45,000 instead of the $44,500 included in the Temporary Order and requested by [Rebecca] in her motion for order to show cause.” The court ultimately modified the Judgment to the correct amount of $44,500.

[3] Given that the court’s purpose in entering the contempt finding was “to vindicate [its] authority by punishing [Kent] for his willful disobedience of the Court’s previous orders,” the contempt proceeding was criminal in nature and required that Kent’s contempt meet the higher standard of beyond a reasonable doubt rather than the lower civil standard. See Dickman Family Props., Inc. v. White, 2013 UT App 116, ¶ 2, 302 P.3d 833 (“The characterization of a contempt proceeding determines the applicable standard of proof: criminal contempt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt; civil contempt must be proven by clear and convincing evidence.”).

[4] Because recent statutory amendments since the relevant time are immaterial in this case, we cite the current version of the Utah Code.

[5] Kent raises other arguments attacking the propriety of the lump sum award to Rebecca. But because Kent has not adequately addressed the earlier Judgment, we need not reach these arguments.

[6] 6. Kent also suggests that Rebecca has received more than $18,000 related to social security disability payments since August 2016 and that the court refused to comply with its obligation to credit those payments against Kent’s child support obligation. The record does not support Kent’s contention. To the contrary, the court’s findings of fact show that the court did reduce Kent’s arrearages by “the amounts received by [Rebecca] on behalf of the [children] in the amount of $405 from social security beginning in August 2016.”

[7] Kent also argues that he could “not be held in contempt of an order that is void because it was beyond the court’s jurisdiction to issue.” But “the only way a party can successfully attack an order which he is charged with refusing to obey is if the party can show it to be absolutely void.” Iota LLC v. Davco Mgmt. Co., 2016 UT App 231, ¶ 20, 391 P.3d 239 (cleaned up). To demonstrate that the district court’s orders were void, Kent would have to show that the court lacked subject matter or personal jurisdiction over him at the time the orders were entered. See id. ¶ 21. Kent has not made that showing. He argues only that the federal law applicable to his VA benefits “implicates the court’s subject matter jurisdiction.” But that cursory suggestion does not show that the district court lacked “authority over the general class of cases to which the particular case at issue belongs.” See id. ¶ 22 (cleaned up).

[8] 8. Kent asserts that the “only orders that [he] ever failed to obey were ones that he believed had been issued by the court without jurisdiction, which he promptly and actively challenged.” But, as explained above, see supra note 7, Kent has not shown that the court lacked jurisdiction to enter its orders. And “a party may not challenge a court’s order by violating it.” Iota LLC, 2016 UT App 231, ¶ 16 (cleaned up). Rather, “[t]he orderly and expeditious administration of justice . . . requires that ‘an order issued by a court with jurisdiction over the subject matter and person must be obeyed by the parties until it is reversed by orderly and proper proceedings.’” Id. (quoting Maness v. Meyers, 419 U.S. 449, 459 (1975)). Indeed, the district court here correctly observed that “‘a party is foreclosed from making a private determination that a court’s order need not be obeyed because it is legally incorrect.’” (Quoting id. ¶ 17.) We thus are not persuaded by Kent’s excuse for not complying with the orders.

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Thomas v. Thomas – 2021 UT App – contempt, modification of custody

Thomas v. Thomas – 2021 UT App

2021 UT App 8
THE UTAH COURT OF APPEALS
JEREMY THOMAS, Appellant,
v.
JODY TASKER THOMAS, Appellee.
Opinion
No. 20190242-CA
Filed January 22,2021
Fourth District Court, Nephi Department
The Honorable Anthony L. Howell
No. 114600077
Rosemond G. Blakelock and Megan P. Blakelock, Attorneys for Appellant
Todd F. Anderson, Attorney for Appellee
JUDGE MICHELE M. CHRISTIANSEN FORSTER authored this Opinion, in which JUDGES JILL M. POHLMAN and DIANA HAGEN concurred.
CHRISTIANSEN FORSTER, Judge:

¶1        Jeremy Thomas appeals the district court’s order following a January 10, 2019 hearing, in which it held him in contempt and imposed various sanctions. We affirm but remand for a calculation of fees and costs on appeal.

BACKGROUND

¶2        Jeremy and Jody Tasker Thomas were divorced in 2013. The parties have two children: Son and Daughter. The divorce decree provided that during the school year, Jeremy would have primary custody of Son and Jody would have primary custody of Daughter. The parties were to share joint physical custody of the children during the summer. Since their divorce, the parties have had numerous conflicts regarding the children, which ultimately led the parties to stipulate to appointment of a special master to help them resolve their parenting disputes. With respect to establishing an order governing the special master’s authority (Order Appointing Special Master), the parties stipulated to use the “standard Special Master Order as used by Jay Jensen or Sandra Dredge.”[1]

¶3        The special master issued numerous orders in the years following his appointment. For example, he issued orders governing the children’s communication and cell phone use during parent-time and requiring both the parents and children to participate in therapy. He also issued orders outlining procedures for exchanges for parent-time that were intended to minimize conflict and prevent the children from defying the parent-time schedule.

¶4        Four years after the decree was entered, Jody filed a motion for order to show cause in which she alleged that Jeremy had violated various provisions of the parties’ divorce decree and the special master’s orders. These allegations revolved around one primary issue: that Jody believed Jeremy was alienating the children from her by speaking “derogatorily or disparagingly” about Jody, “[p]utting the children in the middle,” “discussing adult issues with the children,” and denying her parent-time.

¶5        The district court held a hearing on Jody’s motion for order to show cause, as well as various other pending motions, in November 2017. With respect to Jody’s motion, the court found that Jeremy was “using the teenager[s’] busy schedules as a way to triangulate animosity and contempt of the children against their mother,” that his actions made Jody out to be the “bad guy,” and that he had “shown a continued pattern towards alienating the love and affection of the children towards” Jody. The court also found that Jeremy had not complied with an order of the special master that he “engage in individual therapy.”

¶6        Based on these findings, the court concluded that Jeremy had violated provisions of the divorce decree as well as “multiple orders of the Special Master,” that Jeremy knew of the orders, that he had the ability to comply, and that he willfully refused to do so. As a result, the court found him in contempt and ordered sanctions of thirty days incarceration in county jail, suspension of any licenses issued by the state, and a $1,000 fine (the First Contempt Order). However, the court stayed the sanctions and gave Jeremy an opportunity to purge the contempt by doing four things: (1) “fully comply[ing] with the Special Master order(s) regarding counseling”; (2) “mak[ing] progress regarding his alienation of the children”; (3) “provid[ing] necessary releases for [his therapist] to provide regular reports to the Special Master and [Jody] regarding [Jeremy’s] progress”; and (4) paying Jody’s attorney fees and costs relating to several motions. The court then set the matter for further review. At the subsequent hearing, the court did not consider whether Jeremy had purged his contempt, but it ordered Jeremy:

  1. To strictly comply with the Custody order.
  2. To make no alterations or changes to the custody order without the prior agreement of [Jody].
  3. To compel the children to comply with the custody order, and to do so without any further alienation of the children.
  4. To not schedule or allow to be scheduled any activity with the children in conflict with the custody order.
  5. To not allow [Son’s] sports and motocross to interfere with [Jody’s] visitation without [Jody’s] agreement to a trade.
  6. To compel [Son] to comply with the custody order.
  7. To not allow the children to refuse to comply with the custody order.

¶7        As the year progressed, tensions between the parties continued. Several contentious issues arose relating to exchanges of the children, in which Jeremy “fail[ed] to ensure the children attend parent-time.” Although Jeremy would take the children to the exchange location, the children would refuse to go with Jody, and Jeremy would then allow them to go home with him. Additionally, when conflicts arose between Son’s extracurricular activities and his parent-time with Jody, Jeremy left it to Son to coordinate scheduling changes and make-up time with Jody, putting the full responsibility of disappointing Son on Jody if changes to the schedule could not be arranged.

¶8 Then, at some point in the summer of 2018, Daughter hatched a plan that would allow her to move in with Jeremy during the school year. She informed Jeremy that Jody had given her permission to register for school in Jeremy’s district. Without verifying this information with Jody, Jeremy went to the school and pre-registered Daughter to attend school where he lived. When it became apparent that Jody had not given permission for Daughter to change schools, Daughter “refused to go to school for a considerable time” in the hope that “if [she] didn’t go to school, they’d let [her] go to [her] dad’s.” Additionally, Daughter made attempts to harm Jody, which culminated in Daughter being placed in juvenile detention and referred to the Utah Juvenile Court system.

¶9        Jody filed another motion for order to show cause in December 2018, in which she alleged that Jeremy had failed to purge his contempt and that he should additionally be held in contempt for failing to obey a subpoena and for violating numerous orders of the court and special master. The district court held an evidentiary hearing on the motion on January 10, 2019, and again found Jeremy in contempt (the Second Contempt Order). In light of the voluminous evidence relating to Jeremy’s alienation of the children submitted to the court at that hearing and throughout the pendency of the case, the court made findings regarding anecdotal incidents that it believed were representative of the alienating behavior.

¶10 First, the court recited text messages from an incident in February 2018 in which Daughter refused to return to Jody’s home after parent-time with Jeremy and Jeremy supported her refusal. It then addressed an incident in July 2018 in which Jeremy “knew the children did not want to do” parent-time with Jody and “failed to do anything to encourage or ensure the children comply with [Jody’s] parent-time as required by the orders of the Court.” The court found that this conflict was “only one example of many where [Jeremy] failed to encourage and/or compel the children’s compliance with” Jody’s parent-time.

¶11      The court also made several findings regarding the school incident. The court found that either (1) Jeremy was lying to the court when he claimed Daughter told him Jody gave permission for her to “look at enrolling and attending school” in Jeremy’s district or (2) Daughter lied to Jeremy and Jeremy made no attempt to communicate with Jody to verify Daughter’s “unbelievable statement that she had [Jody’s] permission.” The court found that “as a result of [Jeremy’s] failure to act, [he] implanted the idea into [Daughter’s] mind that [he] was going to aid [her] in her plot to” live with Jeremy: “[T]he best-case scenario is that [Jeremy] was complicit with [Daughter’s] lies and plans. The worst-case scenario is that [Jeremy] helped [Daughter] orchestrate her plot and is lying to the Court.” The court found that Jeremy’s “willingness to allow [Daughter’s] defiance” was a “significant contributor” to her “pushing the envelope of her defiance” by “refusing to attend school for many weeks” and attempting to harm Jody.

¶12 Moreover, the court adopted as part of its order findings of fact submitted by the special master on December 18, 2018, and January 4, 2019. The special master found that although “there was an added measure of compliance” by Jeremy following the First Contempt Order, noncompliance escalated during the late summer and early fall of 2018 and Jeremy had “failed to demonstrate strict and consistent compliance with the custody order.” The special master’s findings went on to detail various incidents of parent-time conflicts and noncompliance by Jeremy, as well as how Jeremy’s failure to respond to the special master and comply with his orders had impeded the special master’s investigation of various incidents and allegations.

¶13 The special master also found that although Jeremy had attended ten sessions with his therapist following the First Contempt Order, he had not met with the therapist for the nine months prior to the January 2019 hearing. However, apart from observing that the therapist appeared not to have a full understanding of the situation, the court did not make additional findings regarding Father’s compliance with orders that he attend therapy.

¶14 The court determined that “the alienation of the children . . . is the most critical issue that the Court has taken into consideration.” It therefore found Jeremy “in continued contempt as [he] has failed to purge his contempt previously found, and also continued to violate the same orders,” including provisions of the divorce decree regarding alienation and putting the children in the middle, as well as “multiple orders of the Special Master.”

¶15      As a result of its contempt findings, the court ordered the following sanctions: (1) that Jeremy pay all Jody’s attorney fees and costs “incurred in relation to this case and her difficulty in co-parenting since February 3, 2018”; (2) that Jeremy pay all the special master “fees and costs incurred since November 14, 2017”; (3) that Jeremy pay for “all uninsured costs of counseling for the parties’ minor children” as well as for individual treatment for Jody and Jeremy with the family counselor; (4) that all parent-time and communication between Jeremy and Daughter be supervised until the special master makes findings that the alienation issues have been sufficiently addressed; (5) that custody of Son be changed from Jeremy to Jody and all parent-time and communication between Jeremy and Son be supervised; and (6) that the stay on two days of the thirty-day jail sentence imposed in the previous contempt order be lifted and that Jeremy serve those two days in the Juab County Jail. However, the court stayed the sanction changing custody and instituting supervised parent-time of Son conditioned on Son strictly complying with court-ordered parent-time and Jeremy showing “a good faith effort to ensure that the minor children are repairing their relationships with [Jody].”

¶16 Custody of Son never actually changed, and the parties reached a stipulation in July 2019 in which they agreed that “[c]ustody of [Son] shall remain [with Jeremy] based on the recommendation of the Special Master, who believes that [Jeremy] has (as of the date of the signing of this Stipulation) been in sufficient compliance with” the conditions imposed by the court in the Second Contempt Order. Son turned eighteen in August 2020.

¶17 Jeremy now challenges the Second Contempt Order on appeal.

ISSUES AND STANDARDS OF REVIEW

¶18      First, Jeremy claims that the district court violated rule 53 of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure by treating the special master’s orders as orders of the court, the violation of which could justify a contempt finding. “The proper interpretation of a rule of procedure is a question of law, and we review the trial court’s decision for correctness.” American Interstate Mortgage Corp. v. Edwards, 2002 UT App 16, ¶ 10, 41 P.3d 1142 (quotation simplified).

¶19      Second, Jeremy raises several issues relating to the district court’s contempt findings and sanctions: (1) that the court exceeded its discretion in concluding that he had not purged his prior contempt found in the First Contempt Order, (2) that the court exceeded its discretion in finding him in further contempt of the court’s orders, (3) that the court lacked authority to change the custody of Son as a sanction for his contempt when no petition to modify was pending in the case, and (4) that other sanctions were inappropriate. “An order relating to contempt of court is a matter that rests within the sound discretion of the trial court.” Dansie v. Dansie, 1999 UT App 92, ¶ 6, 977 P.2d 539. Moreover, “we overturn a sanction only in cases evidencing a clear abuse of discretion.” Chaparro v. Torero, 2018 UT App 181, ¶ 20, 436 P.3d 339 (quotation simplified). “An abuse of discretion may be demonstrated by showing that the district court relied on an erroneous conclusion of law or that there was no evidentiary basis for the trial court’s ruling.” Id. (quotation simplified).

ANALYSIS

  1. Special Master Orders

¶20 Rule 53 of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure states that “[a]ny or all of the issues in an action may be referred by the court to a master upon the written consent of the parties.” Utah R. Civ. P. 53(a). Regarding the powers of a special master, the rule states that “[t]he order of reference to the master may specify or limit [the master’s] powers.” Id. R. 53(c).

¶21      A special master was appointed in this case based on the parties’ stipulation, in which they agreed to give the master authority in accordance with “[t]he standard Special Master Order as used by Jay Jensen or Sandra Dredge.” The Order Appointing Special Master grants the special master authority to issue “directives” regarding numerous specified issues such as scheduling, communication, and therapy and specifies that these directives “are effective as orders when made and . . . continue in effect unless modified or set aside by a court of competent jurisdiction.” The Order Appointing Special Master also grants the special master the authority to issue “recommendations” on other specified issues, such as significant changes to parent-time or conflicts on fundamental parenting decisions relating to healthcare, religion, and education. It states that recommendations—unlike directives—do not become court orders unless and until the district court adopts them.

¶22 Jeremy first asserts that the district court erred in determining that “all the Special Master ‘Orders’ issued” as of the January 10, 2019 hearing “are ‘directives’” under the Order Appointing Special Master, because the court did not “examin[e] the subject matter contained in each pleading the Special Master filed.” However, Jeremy provides no support for his assertion that the district court did not examine the subject matter of the individual special master orders. Further, he makes no attempt to point us to orders that should have been considered recommendations rather than directives. Thus, he has not adequately briefed his claim that the district court erred in classifying all the prior special master orders as directives. See State v. Thomas, 961 P.2d 299, 304 (Utah 1998) (“It is well established that a reviewing court will not address arguments that are not adequately briefed.”).

¶23 Jeremy further asserts that even if the special master orders were directives, they could not have become effective until the district court acknowledged them as such in its Second Contempt Order. But this position is contrary to the plain language of the Order Appointing Special Master, which states that directives “are effective as orders when made and . . . continue in effect unless modified or set aside by a court of competent jurisdiction.” The court’s acknowledgment that the special master orders were directives is not the event that made them effective. They were effective and binding at the time the special master issued them, in accordance with the Order Appointing Special Master.

¶24 To the extent that Jeremy challenges the special master’s authority to make binding directives under rule 53, such a challenge was previously foreclosed by this court in Wight v. Wight, 2011 UT App 424, 268 P.3d 861, in which we rejected a similar argument challenging a district court’s ability to grant a special master limited power under rule 53 to make binding decisions on specific issues. Id. ¶ 16. While rule 53 does not directly give the special master authority to make binding directives, it gives the court the ability to “specify or limit” the special master’s powers in the Order Appointing Special Master. See Utah R. Civ. P. 53(c). The parties in this case stipulated to the appointment of the special master and to the Order Appointing Special Master that would be used. The grant of limited decision-making power in an Order Appointing Special Master is permitted under the “considerable discretion” rule 53 grants district courts in using a special master. See Wight, 2011 UT App 424, ¶ 16. Thus, the court’s acknowledgment of the binding nature of the special master’s directives in this case is not contrary to rule 53. As in Wight, “nothing in the [Order Appointing Special Master] limited either party’s ability to challenge the decisions of the special master by filing objections with the trial court.” Id. But unless and until such an objection was made and ruled on, the special master’s directives were “effective as orders” under the Order Appointing Special Master.

¶25      And while Jeremy asserts that his due process rights were violated when the court treated the directives as orders of the court and held him in contempt for violating them, he has failed to explain why. “At its core, the due process guarantee is twofold—reasonable notice and an opportunity to be heard.” In re adoption of B.Y., 2015 UT 67, ¶ 16, 356 P.3d 1215. Jeremy does not assert that he lacked notice of the orders of the special master. Moreover, given that the orders were directives—a finding that Jeremy has failed to adequately challenge, see supra ¶ 22—and that the Order Appointing Special Master clearly informed Jeremy that directives are binding when issued, he should have known that he was required to comply with them. Further, the Order Appointing Special Master gave Jeremy an opportunity to present any grievances regarding the special master’s orders to the court by means of an objection. He does not assert that he was somehow precluded from objecting to the special master’s orders in the manner prescribed by the Order Appointing Special Master. Therefore, we find no merit in Jeremy’s claim that the district court violated his due process rights in holding him accountable for failing to comply with the special master’s orders.[2]

II. Contempt Finding and Sanctions

¶26 Next, Jeremy raises several challenges to the district court’s contempt findings and sanctions. We address each in turn.

A. Failure to Purge Contempt

¶27 Jeremy first asserts that the court exceeded its discretion in finding that he had not purged his prior contempt, claiming that its findings were not supported by the evidence. To purge his contempt, Jeremy was required to do the following four things: (1) “fully comply with the Special Master order(s) regarding counseling”; (2) “make progress regarding his alienation of the children”; (3) “provide necessary releases for [his therapist] to provide regular reports to the Special Master and [Jody] regarding [Jeremy’s] progress”; and (4) pay Jody specific attorney fees and costs.

¶28 Jeremy asserts that the district court did not make appropriate findings regarding whether he had purged his contempt. As to the first, third, and fourth requirements imposed by the court, we agree that the district court did not clearly address Jeremy’s compliance.[3] However, that fact does not undermine the court’s determination that Jeremy had not purged his contempt. To purge the contempt, Jeremy was required to comply with all four of the requirements. Thus, his failure on even one of the requirements would support a determination that he had not purged his contempt.

¶29 The court made extensive findings regarding Jeremy’s failure to comply with the second requirement—that he make progress on his alienation of the children. Indeed, the court observed that “alienation of the children . . . is the most critical issue that the Court has taken into consideration” in concluding that Jeremy had “failed to purge his contempt.” The court’s findings regarding alienation were extensive and included detailed recitals of the events relating to contentious exchanges in February and July 2018, as well as the events relating to Jeremy’s support of Daughter’s scheme to change schools. Further, the court adopted the special master’s findings, which recited additional instances of parent-time interference and found that Jeremy had “not made consistent progress with the issues of alienation” and, despite “greater compliance and progress” initially following the First Contempt Order, had “fallen into old patterns, continuing to impact the children’s relationship with” Jody.

¶30 Jeremy does not assert that the evidence could not support these findings but instead reargues the evidence, relying solely on the testimony of his own therapist that Jeremy’s progress on alienation issues had been “very good.” But the district court discredited this testimony as unreliable because it believed that, “whether intentionally or unintentionally,” Jeremy had given the therapist “a grossly distorted history of this case,” so the therapist did “not have an understanding of what is actually going on.”[4] Further, the court made extensive findings concerning events that demonstrated Jeremy had not made progress on alienation issues. The underlying evidence supports these findings, and in turn, the findings support the district court’s determination that Jeremy had failed to purge his contempt.

B. Additional Contempt

¶31 Jeremy also asserts that he should not have been held in further contempt, but his arguments in support of this assertion lack merit.

¶32      To find someone in contempt, a court must find “that the person cited for contempt knew what was required, had the ability to comply, and intentionally failed or refused to do so.” Von Hake v. Thomas, 759 P.2d 1162, 1172 (Utah 1988). Here, the court found all three of these elements. Jeremy does not directly challenge the court’s findings on these elements[5] but raises related issues that he claims precluded the court from finding him in contempt.

¶33      First, he takes issue with a statement the court made in its findings about a conflict between the parties over a trip to England that had occurred prior to the First Contempt Order. The court’s findings regarding alienation in the Second Contempt Order stated that it had “identified, with specificity, three circumstances that are not the only examples, but typify the behavior [Jeremy] has engaged in that encourages alienation between the minor children and [Jody].” The court then follows this introduction with the statement, “First, during the course of the evidentiary hearing, in the Court’s questioning of [Jeremy], the Court brought up the previous canceled trip to England and the findings the Court made regarding that event.” Jeremy asserts that it was inappropriate for the court to rely on incidents relating to the England trip to find him in further contempt because those events occurred before the First Contempt Order.

¶34 Admittedly, the inclusion of this statement here is somewhat confusing. Subparagraphs underneath this statement in the court’s order proceed to recite the details of the February 2018 parent-time incident and do not again refer to the England trip. In fact, the court does not mention or discuss the England trip beyond the above-quoted language. Moreover, the court goes on to discuss three distinct incidents, apart from the England trip, as examples of Jeremy’s alienating behavior—the February 2018 incident, the July 2018 incident, and the incident involving Daughter’s schooling.

¶35 Given the complete lack of any further discussion of the England trip and the fact that the court indicated its intent to discuss “three circumstances” that typified Jeremy’s behavior, we are inclined to believe that the statement about the England trip was misplaced and that it was the other three incidents, discussed in more detail, that formed the basis of the court’s contempt finding. The court made no findings or conclusions relating to the England trip but merely mentioned that it had questioned Jeremy about it. And the other three incidents, in addition to the other incidents identified in the special master’s findings, which the court adopted as part of the Second Contempt Order, provided ample support for the district court’s contempt finding. Thus, there is no indication in the Second Contempt Order that the court actually placed any weight on the England trip incident when finding Jeremy in further contempt.

¶36 Second, Jeremy asserts that the court’s findings improperly relied on certain affidavit evidence provided by Jody that he claims was not appropriately admitted. However, any error by the court in considering that evidence was invited when Jeremy indicated that he had no objection to the court considering affidavits “in lieu of direct testimony, so long as the party is then available for cross examination.” See Pratt v. Nelson, 2007 UT 41, ¶ 17, 164 P.3d 366 (“A party cannot take advantage of an error committed at trial when that party led the trial court into committing the error.” (quotation simplified)). Furthermore, at the evidentiary hearing, Jody reaffirmed the statements in her affidavit, and Jeremy took the opportunity to cross-examine her about them.

¶37 In short, we see no merit to any of Jeremy’s arguments challenging the basis for the court’s new findings of contempt. Indeed, the evidence of Jeremy’s alienating behavior was substantial, and the court’s findings were thorough. We do not hesitate to uphold the court’s additional contempt findings in the Second Contempt Order.

C. Change of Custody

¶38 Jeremy next argues that the district court exceeded its discretion by awarding a change of custody of Son as a sanction for his contempt, particularly where no petition to modify was pending. However, this particular sanction was stayed, and the stay was never lifted. Instead, the court entered a new order, pursuant to the parties’ stipulation, in July 2019. This order declared that “[c]ustody of [Son] shall remain [with Jeremy] based on the recommendation of the Special Master, who believes that [Jeremy] has (as of the date of the signing of this Stipulation) been in sufficient compliance with” the conditions imposed by the court in the Second Contempt Order. The order went on to indicate that the parties’ stipulation “resolves any and all issues related to . . . custody of [Son].” Moreover, Son turned eighteen in August 2020 and is therefore no longer subject to the jurisdiction of the court. See generally Utah Code Ann. § 15-2-1 (LexisNexis 2013) (“The period of minority extends . . . to the age of 18 years . . . .”); id. § 30-3-1(5)(d) (2019) (granting district courts jurisdiction over “the custody and maintenance of minor children” in a divorce).

¶39 Because the change-of-custody sanction was never implemented and Son is no longer subject to the jurisdiction of the court, we agree with Jody that this issue is moot. See State v. Steed, 2015 UT 76, ¶ 6, 357 P.3d 547 (“An argument is moot if the requested judicial relief cannot affect the rights of the litigants. In other words, an appeal is moot if the controversy is eliminated such that it renders the relief requested impossible or of no legal effect.” (quotation simplified)).

¶40      Jeremy nevertheless asks us to review this issue “because it is of wide concern, affects the public interest, is likely to recur, and yet evades review.” See Osguthorpe v. Osguthorpe, 872 P.2d 1057, 1058 (Utah Ct. App. 1994). But this does not appear to us to be an accurate statement. Indeed, our court has previously addressed this very issue. See Chaparro v. Torero, 2018 UT App 181, ¶ 40, 436 P.3d 339 (“A district court cannot avoid making [best interests] findings by modifying custody arrangements as a sanction.”); see also Blanco v. Blanco, 311 P.3d 1170, 1175 (Nev. 2013) (en banc) (“A court may not use a change of custody as a sword to punish parental misconduct, such as refusal to obey lawful court orders, because the child’s best interest is paramount in such custody decisions.” (quotation simplified)), quoted in Chaparro, 2018 UT App 181, ¶ 40. Thus, the issue is clearly not one that evades review, and it is one on which we have already provided guidance. Accordingly, we decline to consider this moot issue.

D. Other Sanctions

¶41 Finally, Jeremy asserts that “all sanctions, including attorneys fees, supervised parent-time, and the change of custody should be reversed.” However, we reject his arguments on this point because they are inadequately briefed. State v. Thomas, 961 P.2d 299, 304 (Utah 1998) (“It is well established that a reviewing court will not address arguments that are not adequately briefed.”).

¶42 First, he asserts that attorney fees for “things such as charges on December 17, 2018 regarding mediation discussions with a mediator and charges on July 11, 2018 regarding a separate case involving a Lis Pendens” were unrelated to the order to show cause and therefore should not have been included in the sanctions. This is the extent of his argument. He makes no attempt to explain specifically why these charges were unrelated to the show cause motion or even to identify all the charges he is contesting. Jeremy’s limited analysis is inadequate to challenge the propriety of the attorney fees sanction, and we therefore decline to address his argument.

¶43 Apart from Jeremy’s minimal discussion regarding the propriety of the attorney fees, he does not challenge the appropriateness of the sanctions. Instead, his argument alleges that the court “failed to make the required findings with respect to contempt.” See generally Marsh v. Marsh, 1999 UT App 14, ¶ 10, 973 P.2d 988 (explaining that a court cannot hold someone in contempt unless it finds “from clear and convincing proof that the contemnor knew what was required, had the ability to comply, and willfully and knowingly failed and refused to do so” (quotation simplified)). But this argument, too, is inadequate. Jeremy makes two points: (1) that he could not have “willfully refused to allow [Daughter] to attend school” because he did not have custody of her and (2) that Jody “failed to submit any evidence of [his] contempt.”

¶44 The first argument is irrelevant because the school issue was not that Jeremy did not allow Daughter to attend but that he, at best, “was complicit with [Daughter’s] lies and plans” and, at worst, “helped [Daughter] orchestrate her plot” not to attend school and that his actions exemplified “the behavior [he] has engaged in that encourages alienation between the minor children and” Jody. Moreover, other instances of alienation supported the court’s decision to hold Jeremy in contempt for violating provisions of the divorce decree pertaining to alienation, so even if we agreed with him that the school incident could not support the contempt finding, his failure to specifically challenge the other findings supporting the contempt would preclude us from reversing the court’s decision. Cf. Gilbert v. Utah State Bar, 2016 UT 32, ¶ 24, 379 P.3d 1247 (“[We] will not reverse a ruling of the district court that rests on independent alternative grounds where the appellant challenges only one of those grounds.”). As to his second argument, we have already addressed and rejected it. See supra ¶ 36. Thus, we reject Jeremy’s challenge to the court’s contempt sanctions.

III. Attorney Fees

¶45      Jody requests her attorney fees and costs on appeal on the ground that she was awarded fees below. “The general rule is that when a party who received attorney fees below prevails on appeal, the party is also entitled to fees reasonably incurred on appeal.” Robertson’s Marine, Inc. v. I4 Solutions, Inc., 2010 UT App 9, ¶ 8, 223 P.3d 1141 (quotation simplified). Although there are exceptions to this general rule, see, e.g., Liston v. Liston, 2011 UT App 433, ¶ 27 n.6, 269 P.3d 169, Jeremy has not argued that any exception applies here. Thus, because Jody has prevailed on appeal, we grant her request for fees and costs on appeal and remand for the district court to calculate the award.

CONCLUSION

¶46 Neither the Order Appointing Special Master nor the court’s interpretation and application of that order violated rule 53 of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure. Further, Jeremy has not adequately alleged any error or abuse of discretion in the court’s determination that he had failed to purge his prior contempt and that he had engaged in additional contemptuous acts. Jeremy’s challenge to the change-of-custody sanction is moot, and his challenges to the other sanctions are inadequately briefed. Because Jody has prevailed on appeal and was awarded fees below, she is also entitled to fees on appeal. Accordingly, we affirm the Second Contempt Order but remand for the district court to calculate an award of fees and costs to Jody on appeal.

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

———

[1] Although details about Jay Jensen and Sandra Dredge are not found in the record, we take judicial notice, purely for the purpose of providing background information, that the former is a therapist and the latter an attorney. Both have practices in Utah County and have served as special masters in several domestic cases there.

[2] Even if we were persuaded that the court somehow erred in holding Jeremy in contempt based on the orders of the special master, it is unclear how that would alter the outcome of this case. The court’s contempt finding was not based solely on violations of the special master’s orders but rested in large part on his violation of those provisions of the divorce decree prohibiting alienation.

[3] The adopted findings of the special master did suggest that Jeremy had not “fully compl[ied] with the Special Master order(s) regarding counseling,” as he had not met with therapist for the nine months prior to the January 2019 hearing. However, the district court did not analyze Jeremy’s compliance with this mandate.

[4] Jeremy does not challenge the court’s determination that his therapist’s testimony was not credible but instead blames the special master and the district court for any distortion of the facts because the special master selected and the court appointed the therapist to function solely as an individual therapist for Jeremy and not to meet with other members of the family or evaluate the family as a whole. He asserts that if the therapist had been required to consult with others, the therapist would have had a fuller picture of the situation and that the lack of such consultation precluded Jeremy from complying with the court’s mandate that he make progress on his alienation issues. But even accepting Jeremy’s premise, these facts suggest only that the therapist’s lack of information from other sources might have limited his utility as a witness to Jeremy’s progress, not that Jeremy was precluded from making progress on his alienation issues. It was Jeremy who continued to make poor decisions by interfering with parent-time, supporting Daughter’s scheme to change schools, and generally undermining Jody. And it was Jeremy who, in meeting with the therapist, left out crucial information that could have helped the therapist better understand and help him with the alienation issues. The fact that Jeremy failed to make progress in spite of therapy does not come down to whether the special master or court ordered the therapist to meet with other individuals in the family. Ultimately, it was Jeremy’s responsibility to comply with the court’s order that he make progress on his alienation issues, and he failed to do so.

[5] Jeremy does attempt to challenge the court’s findings regarding the school incident, but he does so in the context of challenging the sanctions rather than in the context of challenging the contempt finding. In any event, we reject those arguments as discussed infra ¶ 44.

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Can I sell or trade in the family car while divorce proceedings are pending?

Can I sell or trade in the family car while divorce proceedings are pending?

How would a spouse in process of divorce go about trading her van that is in both spouses name, if the other spouse is uncooperative? Would surrendering her van to the bank be an alternative?

If you owe more on the van than it is worth and don’t depend upon the van for essential transportation needs, then if you were to sell the van such that you’d be left with just the loan deficiency (the difference between the amount the van was worth or sold for and the remaining balance of the loan), you’d probably not be punished. It would be hard for anyone to argue or for a court to conclude that by getting rid of a van worth less than the loan encumbering it you destroyed, dissipated, or diminished an “asset” that had a negative value. And if your spouse agrees (get it in writing!) you can sell the van, you’re fully in the clear.

Bear in mind, however, that many states have an “ATRO” rule (automatic temporary restraining order) that provides that in every divorce action that concerns the division of property then neither party may transfer, encumber, conceal, or dispose of any property of either party without the written consent of the other party or an order of the court, except in the usual course of business or to provide for the necessities of life. Violation of this rule can result in you being sanctioned for contempt of court. Other states that don’t have ATROs in divorce cases can still provide for the judge to enter a restraining order at the outset of a divorce case that, among other things, restrains you and your spouse from transferring or disposing of any marital property without the written consent of the other party or an order of the court.

Also bear in mind that if your credit is already bad and you won’t be able to qualify for a new loan for a replacement vehicle, you may be better off paying the loan for a vehicle you have in hand. And if 1) your spouse depended on using that van to get to work or the doctor or the store, etc., 2) your spouse does not want the van sold, and 3) by selling the van you would deprive your spouse of his/her only means of transportation, the court would likely frown on that and order you to provide or pay for a replacement vehicle.

The safest way to sell off the van or trade the van in for a different vehicle is to move the court (file a motion with the court) for permission to sell the van or trade the van in for a different vehicle. Now just because you filed the motion does not necessarily mean the court will grant that motion.

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

https://www.quora.com/How-would-a-spouse-in-process-of-divorce-go-about-trading-her-van-that-is-in-both-spouses-name-if-the-other-spouse-is-uncooperative-Would-surrendering-her-van-to-the-bank-be-an-alternative/answer/Eric-Johnson-311

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What would happen if a witness in court was asked if they will swear to tell the truth and they said no?

What would happen if a witness in court was asked if they will swear to tell the truth and they said no?

If the witness were unwilling to swear or affirm to tell the truth, the witness would either not be permitted to testify or sanctioned for contempt of court until the witness swears or affirms to tell the truth when called to testify.

Some people may object to “swearing” to tell the truth because their religion or personal morals prohibit swearing oaths, and so every state has a statute that allows such a witness to “affirm” to tell the truth instead of swearing an oath to tell the truth. Here is Utah’s statute:

Any person may, instead of taking an oath, opt to make a solemn affirmation or declaration, by assenting, when addressed in the following form:

“You do solemnly affirm (or declare) that ….” etc., as in Section 78B-1-143.

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

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2020 UT App 73 – Utah Court of Appeals – civil stalking, contempt, intent

2020 UT App 73  THE UTAH COURT OF APPEALS

ALICIA W. KOEHLER,
Appellee,
MARK STEWART ALLEN,
Appellant.

Opinion
No. 20190395-CA
Filed May 7, 2020

Fourth District Court, Provo Department
The Honorable M. James Brady
No. 160400655

Scott N. Weight, Attorney for Appellant
Albert N. Pranno and Justin T. Ashworth, Attorneys
for Appellee

JUDGE DIANA HAGEN authored this Opinion, in which
JUDGES DAVID N. MORTENSEN and RYAN M. HARRIS concurred.

HAGEN, Judge:

¶1        The district court found Mark Stewart Allen in contempt for violating a civil stalking injunction when he contacted Alicia W. Koehler via email. On appeal, Allen argues that insufficient evidence supported the district court’s findings that (1) he knew that he was subject to a civil stalking injunction, and (2) he intentionally violated the civil stalking injunction. Although we reject his first argument, we reverse on the second and remand for the district court to enter an explicit finding as to whether Allen acted intentionally.

BACKGROUND[1]

¶2        Allen and Koehler met in 2011 on Facebook. Whatever relationship developed between the two apparently deteriorated because Koehler requested that Allen “discontinue contact” with her in July 2013. But Allen continued to contact Koehler by emailing her, reaching out through third parties, sending Koehler and her family gifts, and entering Koehler’s home while she was not there. After contacting the police in 2014 and 2015, Koehler sought a civil stalking injunction in April 2016.

¶3        The district court granted Koehler a temporary civil stalking injunction (the injunction) on May 2, 2016. The injunction prohibited Allen from contacting Koehler and specifically advised him not to “contact, phone, mail, e-mail, or communicate in any way with [Koehler] . . . either directly or indirectly.” In bolded italics, the order stated that “[t]his order ends 3 years after it is served.” In a section titled “Warnings to the Respondent,” the injunction stated “[t]his is an official court order” and “[n]o one except the court can change it.” The injunction further warned that if Allen “disobey[ed] this order, the court [could] find [him] in contempt.” The injunction notified Allen of his right to a hearing but warned that if he did not ask for a hearing within 10 days, the order would last for three years after the date of service.

¶4        Allen was served with the injunction on May 13, 2016. Because a hearing was not requested within ten days, “the ex parte civil stalking injunction automatically [became] a civil stalking injunction without further notice to [Allen] and expire[d] three years from the date of service.” See Utah Code Ann. § 77-3a-101(9) (LexisNexis 2017).

¶5        Allen requested a hearing on May 26, 2016. Because the request was made more than ten days after service of the injunction, the burden shifted to Allen “to show good cause why the civil stalking injunction should be dissolved or modified.” See id. § 77-3a-101(10). The matter was set for a one-day bench trial, but Allen’s attorney moved to continue the hearing for additional discovery. For reasons not clear from the record, no hearing was ever held. No court orders were entered revoking or modifying the injunction.

¶6        On December 21, 2018, less than three years after service of the injunction, Allen contacted Koehler via email at 7:01 p.m. The email stated, in part, “Why you have despised me and ruined my hope for happiness, unknown, but I do desire peace between our hearts . . . if you are willing.”

¶7 Koehler moved for an order to show cause why Allen should not be held in contempt for contacting her in contravention of the injunction. At the hearing on the motion, Allen testified that he had been served with the injunction in 2016 but had asked his attorney to request a hearing, believing that the injunction would last only until a hearing was held. According to Allen, his attorney later informed him that the hearing was canceled because the case had been dismissed. Allen testified that, after speaking with his attorney, he believed the injunction was no longer in effect, but he admitted that he had never received any official court documents suggesting that the injunction had been dismissed or modified in any way.

¶8        Allen also admitted that he had been criminally charged with violating the injunction in June 2017 and had pled “no contest” pursuant to a plea-in-abeyance agreement.[2] During that plea hearing, Allen claimed that he “wasn’t aware there . . . was an injunction in place” because his “former counsel . . . had a mental breakdown and failed to provide that documentation to [him].” But he admitted, as the factual basis for the plea, that the State could likely prove that “with the stalking injunction in place [he] sent a package to the protected party which was in violation of that.” As a condition of the plea in abeyance, the court ordered Allen not to contact Koehler for one year. Allen testified that he complied with the terms of his plea agreement and the criminal case was dismissed prior to December 2018. Allen acknowledged, however, that the court in the criminal case did not say anything about the injunction. Allen was asked multiple times whether the 2017 criminal proceedings put him on notice that the injunction was still in place, and the district court noted that Allen was “evasive” in his answers.

¶9        Allen also claimed that he did not recall emailing Koehler on December 21, 2018. He testified that, on December 21, he had taken both Unisom, an over-the-counter sleep aid, and trazodone, a medication that had been prescribed to Allen to treat insomnia. Allen testified that he “woke up some 24 hours later” and recalled “[a]bsolutely nothing” from the time period during which the email was sent. Allen’s prescribing physician testified that taking trazodone and Unisom together would result in impairment and that it was possible that Allen slept for 24 hours.

¶10      After hearing arguments on the motion, the district court found that Koehler had proved the first two elements necessary for contempt by clear and convincing evidence. Specifically, the court found that, first, Allen “knew what was required” by the injunction and, second, Allen had “the ability to comply” with the injunction. But the third element—intentional failure to comply with the court-ordered injunction—was taken under advisement. In considering whether Allen “acted intentionally in sending the email,” the court noted that the email was “sent at 7:00 p.m., . . . which is not a time when typically people are asleep, but it could be that he tried to go to sleep at 1:00 or 2:00 in the afternoon and slept for 24 hours.” The court observed “that the content of the email and the way that it was drafted is not a rambling email and it’s not one that by its face is gibberish.” The court also noted that the email “seems to carry messages, it carries it clearly, it’s even punctuated, even with the uses of ellipses in the sentences.”

¶11 After taking the issue of intent under advisement, the district court issued a written ruling finding Allen in contempt of the stalking injunction. The court found that the third element was satisfied because “Allen acted intentionally, or . . . he was voluntarily intoxicated when he sent the email in question to Ms. Koehler.” In its written ruling, the court found that “[t]he content of the email, the proper spelling, sentence structure, use of punctuation are all indications of a person whose mind is not confused or stuporous. The time the email was sent is not when most people would be taking medicines to help them sleep.”

¶12      Allen appeals.

ISSUE AND STANDARD OF REVIEW

¶13 Allen argues that there was insufficient evidence to support the district court’s findings on two elements of contempt: first, that he was aware of the injunction and, second, that he intentionally violated the injunction. “When reviewing a bench trial for sufficiency of the evidence, we must sustain the trial court’s judgment unless it is against the clear weight of the evidence, or if we otherwise reach a definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been made.” In re D.V., 2011 UT App 241, ¶ 10, 265 P.3d 803 (cleaned up).

ANALYSIS

¶14      “As a general rule, in order to prove contempt for failure to comply with a court order it must be shown that the person cited for contempt knew what was required, had the ability to comply, and intentionally failed or refused to do so.” Von Hake v. Thomas, 759 P.2d 1162, 1172 (Utah 1988), superseded on other grounds by statute as stated in State v. Hurst, 821 P.2d 467 (Utah Ct. App. 1991). The district court must make “explicit findings, whether written or transcribed, on the three elements of contempt.” State v. Hurst, 821 P.2d 467, 470 (Utah Ct. App. 1991). In a civil contempt proceeding such as this one, those elements must be proved by clear and convincing evidence. Von Hake, 759 P.2d at 1172.[3]

¶15 Allen challenges the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the district court’s findings on the first and third elements. First, he argues that there was insufficient evidence that he “knew he was subject to a stalking injunction on December 21, 2018.” Next, he argues that there was insufficient evidence that he “knowingly and intentionally violated the stalking injunction that was issued against him” because he could not form the requisite intent due to voluntary intoxication. We address each challenged element in turn.

  1. Knowledge of the Injunction

¶16 Allen argues that there was insufficient evidence that he “knew he was subject to a stalking injunction on December 21, 2018” because of “misleading information he received in 2016 from his attorney and the lack of explanation at the 2017 hearing.” We disagree.

¶17      The district court found by clear and convincing evidence that Allen knew he was subject to the injunction when he sent the email to Koehler in December 2018. In so doing, the court implicitly found that Allen’s claim of ignorance lacked credibility. “Because the weight to be given to the testimony is within the province of the finder of fact, we will not second guess a court’s decisions about evidentiary weight and credibility if there is a reasonable basis in the record to support them.” SA Group Props. Inc. v. Highland Marketplace LC, 2017 UT App 160, ¶ 24, 424 P.3d 187 (cleaned up). Here, the evidence supports the court’s finding that Allen knew he was subject to the injunction when he emailed Koehler in December 2018, despite his professed ignorance.

¶18 Allen admitted that he was served with the injunction, which stated that the court order would end after three years. The injunction was served on May 13, 2016, placing Allen on notice that he was required to obey the court order until May 13, 2019. Even assuming that Allen’s attorney later misinformed him that the case had been dismissed, the injunction specified that “[n]o one except the court can change” the order and Allen admitted that he never received any official communication from the court relieving him of the responsibility to comply.

¶19 Most importantly, Allen admitted that he had been charged with violating the injunction in 2017, long after he allegedly received the misinformation from his attorney. The stated factual basis for his plea in abeyance was that “with the stalking injunction in place the defendant sent a package to the protected party which was in violation of that.” And when asked whether the 2017 criminal proceedings had resolved any uncertainty about whether the injunction was still in place, Allen was “evasive,” casting further doubt on his credibility.

¶20 The record also undermines Allen’s claim that the 2017 criminal proceedings created further confusion about the status of the injunction. He testified that, after the plea hearing in his criminal case, he believed that the only order prohibiting him from contacting Koehler was the one-year order issued by the court, which expired before December 2018. But the record makes clear that the one-year period was not a substitute for or modification of the injunction, but a term of Allen’s plea-in-abeyance agreement. And Allen admitted that the court in the criminal case did not say anything about the injunction.

¶21 Viewed in the light most favorable to the district court’s ruling, the finding that Allen knew what was required of him by the injunction was not against the clear weight of the evidence. Therefore, we affirm the district court’s finding that Allen “knew he was subject to a stalking injunction on December 21, 2018.”

  1. Intentional Failure to Comply

¶22      Allen also argues that insufficient evidence supported the district court’s finding that he “knowingly and intentionally violated the stalking injunction that was issued against him” because he was voluntarily intoxicated when the alleged violation occurred. Because we conclude that the court did not make an explicit finding on whether Allen’s conduct was intentional, we do not reach the issue of whether such a finding would be supported by sufficient evidence.

¶23 The district court did not make an explicit finding that Allen acted intentionally, as required to hold him in contempt. Rather, the court ruled in the alternative that “Allen acted intentionally, or that he was voluntarily intoxicated when he sent the email in question to Ms. Koehler.” (Emphasis added.) That alternative ruling fails to account for the potential of voluntary intoxication to negate a person’s ability to form the intent required for a finding of contempt. See State v. Bell, 2016 UT App 157, ¶ 30, 380 P.3d 11.

¶24 Voluntary intoxication is not a defense “unless the intoxication ‘negates the existence of the mental state which is an element of the offense.’” Id. (quoting Utah Code Ann. § 76-2-306 (LexisNexis 2017)).[4] For voluntary intoxication to negate the existence of intent required for a finding of contempt, a defendant “must demonstrate that his state of intoxication deprived him of the capacity to form the mental state necessary” for such a finding. Id. (cleaned up). “It is not enough to merely present evidence showing that the defendant was intoxicated.” Id. (cleaned up). “Rather, to establish a viable voluntary intoxication defense, the defendant must point to evidence showing that he was so intoxicated that he was incapable of forming the requisite mental state for the [acts] committed.” Id. (cleaned up).

¶25 Here, the district court appears to have mistakenly assumed that Allen’s alleged voluntary intoxication could not be considered in determining whether Allen acted with the required mental state. Indeed, the court’s order stated that “[e]ven if [Allen] was not capable of intentionally sending the email as a result of confusion, stupor or intoxication caused by the medicines, since the medicines were voluntarily combined by [Allen], his intoxication was voluntary and therefore not a defense.” That ruling allows for the possibility that Allen did not act intentionally. Although the court’s subsidiary findings regarding the timing and content of the email suggest that it did not believe Allen’s mind was “confused or stuperous” as a result of the alleged intoxication, the court did not explicitly find that the third element was proved by clear and convincing evidence.

¶26 We therefore remand to the district court to make a finding as to whether Allen intentionally violated the injunction. If the court finds this element satisfied by clear and convincing evidence, it should enter an amended judgment to that effect. If, on the other hand, the court finds that Allen did not act intentionally—as a result of voluntary intoxication or otherwise—it should vacate the contempt order.

CONCLUSION

¶27      The district court’s finding that Allen knew he was subject to the injunction was not against the clear weight of the evidence. However, because the district court did not enter an explicit finding as to whether Allen acted intentionally in violating the injunction, we reverse and remand for the district court to make a finding on that element of contempt.

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

——————————

[1] “On appeal from a bench trial, we view the evidence in a light most favorable to the district court’s findings, and therefore recite the facts consistent with that standard and present conflicting evidence to the extent necessary to clarify the issues raised on appeal.” Burggraaf v. Burggraaf, 2019 UT App 195, n.2, 455 P.3d 1071 (cleaned up).

[2] In accordance with rule 410(a)(2) of the Utah Rules of Evidence, the district court did not consider Allen’s prior “no contest” plea for the purpose of establishing that Allen had previously violated the injunction. However, as permitted by rule 410(b), the parties stipulated to the admission of statements made during the plea hearing. We consider those statements only to the extent that they bear on whether Allen knew that the injunction was in effect on December 21, 2018.

[3] In a criminal contempt proceeding, the “elements must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.” Von Hake v. Thomas, 759 P.2d 1162, 1172 (Utah 1988). “The primary determinant of whether a particular contempt order is to be labeled civil or criminal is the trial court’s purpose in entering the order.” Id. at 1168. A criminal contempt order is punitive in nature, whereas a civil contempt order has a remedial purpose. Id. “A remedial purpose is indicated when the contemner is allowed to purge him- or herself of the contempt by complying with the court’s orders.” Id. Thus, “a contempt order is criminal if the fine or sentence imposed is fixed and unconditional, but is civil if the fine or imprisonment is conditional such that the contemner can obtain relief from the contempt order merely by doing some act as ordered by the court.” Id. at 1168 n.5. Here, the district court’s order “impose[d] sanctions on Mr. Allen including a jail term of 10 days and a fine of $300.” However, these sanctions were “stayed to allow Mr. Allen an opportunity to purge his contempt.” The order allowed Allen to obtain relief from the contempt order merely by “having no further contact directly or indirectly, in person, in writing, by email[,] text, electronic posting to social media or in other manner with Ms. Koehler for a period of two years.” Because this order was conditional such that Allen could obtain relief by staying away from Koehler, the contempt order is not criminal but civil. See id. As such, the court was required to find the three substantive elements of contempt by clear and convincing evidence.

[4] Although section 76-2-306 applies to criminal prosecutions, neither party has suggested that different principles apply in civil cases such as this one.

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What happens if you get caught lying in family court?

I’ve been a divorce and family law attorney for 23 years and gone back and forth over the years on my opinion of how the courts feel about and how they treat lying.

  1. At this point in my career, I think the most accurate way to answer your question is this way: judges have to go out of their way in hearings and trials to wear a poker face. It is their job to be and appear impartial in the course of the proceedings. People who are not aware of this often perceive the judge’s impartiality and the outward manifestation of such to be apathy and indifference. This is something that even I, an attorney, would perceive, so I don’t blame you if you had similar feelings. But keep this in mind when you’re in court, so you don’t mistake the judge’s professional detachment and impartiality for inattention or being duped.
  2. I’m a little ashamed for believing in the past that judges care so little about the divorce and other domestic relations cases that come before them. But just a little ashamed because:
    • While some judges care more than I gave them credit for, the fact remains that judges generally hate divorce and domestic relations cases. Divorce cases are often extremely acrimonious and are often characterized by emotional outbursts and, frankly, a lot of irrelevant information. It is not surprising that judges become jaded quickly with divorce and domestic relations cases and, as a consequence, often tune out much of what is said and presented to them. I once spoke to a retired judge on this very subject. When I asked him, “How much went in one ear and out the other in divorce cases?,” I was shocked but grateful for his candid response: “Oh,” he said, “about 50%.”
    • So one of the best ways you can bolster your credibility with the judge is to dispense with the melodrama, be very businesslike in your presentation of your arguments, stick to the facts you can verifiably prove or for which you can make very persuasive compelling arguments. Do not go into court believing that the judge need only hear your sincere voice to be persuaded that every word that falls from your lips is true and that every word from your spouse ( including “and” and “the”[1]) is a lie.
  1. Even when the judge catches your spouse in a lie, your judge will weigh the seriousness of the lie in determining how the judge will react to the lie. Perjury is both contempt of court and a criminal act, so the judge in your divorce case can sanction and jail you for perjury, and you can also be criminally prosecuted for perjury, if you committed perjury.
    • Not every lie told to a judge or in court is perjury, by the way. Perjury is defined as “The act or an instance of a person’s deliberately making material false or misleading statements while under oath.” (Black’s Law Dictionary (7th ed. 1999). St. Paul MN: West Group. p. 1160).
    • If, for example, your spouse is late in arriving the court and lies by claiming that he or she had a flat tire, the court will probably not lock your spouse up for contempt of court. The judge may (and likely will), however, take note of the fact that your spouse was willing to lie over such a small matter. And many judges will conclude that if you are willing to lie about small things, you may be willing to lie about big things. Don’t lie. It’s wrong. Even if you believe you can get away with lying, it’s wrong. If being morally upstanding is not reason enough for you to tell the truth, remember that once your credibility is called into question or destroyed, it will often not matter whether you tell the truth thereafter. See The Boy Who Cried Wolf. If the court believes you’re a liar, then it may believe that every thing you say is a lie or at least cannot be trusted to be true.

[1] Hat tip to Dorothy Parker

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

https://www.quora.com/What-happens-if-you-get-caught-lying-in-family-court/answer/Eric-Johnson-311

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Rosser v. Rosser – 2019 UT App 5 – contempt of court

2019 UT App 5

THE UTAH COURT OF APPEALS

HOLLY REBECCA ROSSER,
Appellee,

v.

RONALD LEE ROSSER,
Appellant.

Opinion No. 20170736-CA
Filed January 10, 2019

Sixth District Court, Panguitch Department
The Honorable Paul D. Lyman
No. 154600013

Steven W. Beckstrom, Attorney for Appellant
Stephen D. Spencer, Attorney for Appellee

JUDGE RYAN M. HARRIS authored this Opinion, in which
JUDGES DAVID N. MORTENSEN and DIANA HAGEN concurred.

HARRIS, Judge:

¶1        Ronald Lee Rosser and Holly Rebecca Rosser divorced in 2016 pursuant to a stipulated decree of divorce that was the result of mediation. One of the points of contention in their divorce case was how the parties would divide their 2015 tax obligations. At the conclusion of the mediation, the parties apparently agreed to split the 2015 tax liability equally. A few weeks later, however, both parties executed a stipulated decree of divorce that obligated Holly[1] to “pay any tax liabilities . . . for the year 2015.” Later, after Ronald refused to pay any of the outstanding 2015 tax obligation, Holly obtained an order to show cause and asked the district court to hold Ronald in contempt of court for refusing to pay his share of the 2015 taxes. The court granted Holly’s request and found Ronald in contempt. Ronald now appeals, and we agree with Ronald that the actions he was found to have taken do not constitute statutory contempt of court. Accordingly, we vacate nearly the entirety of the district court’s contempt order, and remand this case for further proceedings.

BACKGROUND

¶2        After twenty-five years of marriage, Holly and Ronald separated in 2014, and Holly later petitioned for divorce. Over the course of their marriage, the parties acquired various assets, including several vehicles, a residence in Panguitch, Utah, two other parcels of real property, and a number of franchise restaurants that were owned by a company in which Holly and Ronald each held a 50% stake. In addition to these assets, the parties also had certain debts, including a $29,902.71 tax obligation owed to the IRS for the 2015 tax year. The parties took opposing positions regarding the division of some of these assets and liabilities.

¶3        In an attempt to resolve their differences prior to trial, the parties agreed to participate in mediation on June 16, 2016. During that mediation session, the parties were able to come to an agreement regarding all of their issues, including the 2015 tax obligation. This consensus was memorialized in a three-page written agreement (the Mediation Agreement) that was signed by all parties immediately upon completion of the mediation. With regard to the tax obligation, the Mediation Agreement states as follows: “IRS debt from 2015, 50% Ron and 50% Holly.” The parties also agreed that Ronald would be entitled to certain “rebates” that the couple’s business received.

¶4        In the weeks following the mediation, Holly paid her half of the 2015 tax obligation. For reasons unclear from the record, Ronald did not. However, Ronald did contact the parties’ accountant and identify several additional tax deductions that he thought could potentially reduce the parties’ 2015 tax liability. Acting on Ronald’s instructions, in July 2016 the accountant prepared an amended 2015 tax return for Ronald and Holly. In preparing that return, however, the accountant mistakenly assumed that the entire previous 2015 tax obligation of $29,902.71 had already been paid, when in reality only half of it (Holly’s half) had actually been paid. As a result, the amended tax return indicated that not only did Ronald and Holly not owe any taxes for 2015, they were actually due a tax refund of approximately $7,900. Holly would later testify that, operating on the assumption that Ronald had paid his half of the pre­existing 2015 tax obligation as she had done, she believed that the amended returns were accurate and that the parties were in fact owed a refund. For his part, Ronald would later testify that he also believed the amended tax returns were accurate, but premised this belief on a different assumption: that Holly had paid the entirety of the 2015 tax obligation in consideration for other income she had negotiated from him. Apparently both under the belief that the amended returns were accurate, the parties signed those returns on or about August 22, 2016.

¶5        On or about August 4, 2016—after the amended tax returns had been prepared and reviewed, but before either party actually signed them—the parties and their attorneys all signed a Stipulated Motion for Entry of Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law and Final Decree of Divorce. With respect to the 2015 tax obligation, that stipulation stated—in contrast to the Mediation Agreement—that Holly “shall be solely entitled to receive any refund resulting from the amended returns, and shall also be responsible to pay any tax liabilities resulting to any of the Parties for the year 2015.” A few days later, on August 8, 2016, the district court signed a Final Decree of Divorce (the Decree) in accordance with the parties’ stipulated motion. Under the terms of the Decree, Holly “shall be solely entitled to receive any refund resulting from the amended [2015 tax] returns, and shall also be responsible to pay any tax liabilities resulting to any of the Parties for the year 2015.” The Decree also states that Ronald is entitled to the rebates as agreed upon at the mediation.

¶6        Holly later discovered that the amended tax returns were inaccurate, and that instead of being entitled to a $7,900 refund for tax year 2015, the parties still owed $7,174.98. Under the terms of the recently-entered Decree, Holly was obligated to make this payment, but she considered that result unfair since she had already paid her half of the 2015 tax obligation, as the parties had agreed at mediation, and Ronald had not. In part because she felt as though Ronald owed her money related to the 2015 tax obligation, she declined to pass along to Ronald certain rebate checks she received to which Ronald was entitled under the terms of the Decree.

¶7        On November 21, 2016, Holly filed a Motion for Order to Show Cause, alleging that Ronald had defrauded her and asking the court to order Ronald to pay his share of the parties’ 2015 tax obligations as well as her attorney fees in bringing the motion. A few weeks later, Ron filed his own Motion for Order to Show Cause, alleging that Holly had willfully failed to comply with the provision of the Decree that concerned the rebates. Eventually, the district court scheduled both motions for an evidentiary hearing. During that hearing, Holly testified that Ronald had misled her into believing that he had paid his share of the parties’ 2015 tax obligation assigned to him pursuant to the Mediation Agreement. Ronald, by contrast, testified that Holly was not only aware that he had not done so, but that after mediation she had agreed to pay the entirety of the tax obligation. With regard to the rebates, Holly acknowledged that she had received rebate checks to which Ronald was entitled under the Decree, but stated that she had not passed those along to Ronald because she felt that he owed her money related to the 2015 tax obligations.

¶8      At the conclusion of the hearing, the court found that Ronald deceived Holly by allowing her to believe that he had paid his share of the tax obligation, and that Holly had not in fact agreed to pay it herself. The court then found Ronald in contempt of court for “his deliberate deceit and failure to act as agreed between the parties on June 16, 2016,” and ordered Ronald to pay Holly approximately $15,000 plus reasonable attorney fees, which were later determined to be $4,000. The court also found that Holly had “failed to make” the rebate payments to Ronald as required by the Decree, but that Holly’s conduct “did not intentionally violate the Decree” because Holly was “merely reacting to [Ronald’s] deceit.” Accordingly, the court allowed Holly to “offset” the rebate amounts she owed Ronald against the amount it determined Ronald owed her on the tax issue. After quantifying the amount of attorney fees to which it believed Holly was entitled, the court eventually entered judgment against Ronald in the amount of $18,951.11, but stated, in the judgment, that Holly “may apply” the “rebates toward the judgment and thus give [Ronald] credit” for them.

¶9        Ronald appeals from that judgment, and asks us to consider whether the district court erred in holding him in contempt. When reviewing a district court’s decision to find a party in contempt, “we review the district court’s findings of fact for clear error and its legal determinations for correctness.” LD III LLC v. Davis, 2016 UT App 206, ¶ 12, 385 P.3d 689 (quotation simplified). Ronald’s chief complaint with the district court’s contempt determination is a legal one: Ronald contends that the facts alleged by Holly, even if true, cannot constitute statutory contempt of court as a matter of law.[2] This is a legal question that we review for correctness. Id.

¶10      Under Utah statutory law, a court has authority to hold a person in contempt of court for any one of twelve enumerated reasons. See Utah Code Ann. § 78B-6-301 (LexisNexis 2012).[3] Ronald contends that none of the twelve grounds apply here, and that therefore the district court was without statutory authority to hold him in contempt. We agree with Ronald.

¶11 In this case, while it is clear that the district court found that Ronald was in contempt of court, it is unclear which of the twelve statutory grounds the court relied upon. In its order, the court stated that Ronald was “in contempt, due to his deliberate deceit and failure to act as agreed between the parties on June 16, 2016.” The court gave no other indication of the legal (as opposed to the factual) grounds for its determination that Ronald was in contempt of court.

¶12      Holly asserts that the district court implicitly relied upon two of the twelve statutory grounds for contempt: (a) the fourth one, which allows a court to find a “party to an action” in contempt for “deceit, or abuse of the process or proceedings of the court”; and (b) the fifth one, which allows a court to find a person in contempt for “disobedience of any lawful judgment, order or process of the court.” Id. § 78B-6-301(4), (5). We are not convinced that either of these grounds was appropriately invoked in this case.

¶13 The court did mention Ronald’s “deliberate deceit” as part of its reason for holding Ronald in contempt of court. But the deceit the court described in its findings was not deceit Ronald committed upon the court; rather, it was deceit Ronald apparently committed upon Holly by not telling her that he had failed to pay his share of the parties’ 2015 tax obligation. In this case, there is no allegation, let alone a finding, that Ronald committed deceit or fraud on the court, and in our view subsection (4) of the contempt statute must be interpreted to include only deceit committed on the court.

¶14      We reach that conclusion after reviewing the provision in context. First, subsection (4)—unlike other subsections—is by its own terms limited to the actions of “part[ies] to the action or special proceeding.” See id. § 78B-6-301(4). Second, “deceit” is part of a short list of things that might be found contemptuous under that subsection, and the other thing listed is “abuse of the process or proceedings of the court.” Id. Our supreme court requires a “commonsense approach” to statutory interpretation in which “a word is given more precise content by the neighboring words with which it is associated.” See Thayer v. Washington County School Dist., 2012 UT 31, ¶ 15, 285 P.3d 1142 (quotation simplified). Here, the entire thrust of the subsection is aimed at allowing a court to penalize deceitful misuse of judicial proceedings by parties to those proceedings. Ronald’s actions were all undertaken toward Holly, and not toward the court, and thus cannot fall within the ambit of subsection (4).

¶15 It is contemptible deceit, for example, to lie to a court under oath.[4] See Bhongir v. Mantha, 2016 UT App 99, ¶ 16, 374 P.3d 33. It is also contemptible deceit to file false documents, see, e.g. PacifiCorp v. Cardon, 2016 UT App 20, ¶ 3, 366 P.3d 1226, or to falsely testify during a divorce proceeding that one has very little money and then skip town with money which one has previously deposited under an assumed name, see Smith v. Smith, 218 P.2d 270, 271–72 (Utah 1950). But these are all actions taken toward the court, and we are aware of no case—and Holly provides us with none—in which a court held a person in contempt for deceit that occurred outside of the presence of the court, was directed towards another party, and did not involve false sworn testimony or the filing of a falsified document.

¶16 We share Ronald’s concern that, were Holly’s position governing law, there would be little to prevent any untruthful statement made by any party to anyone while litigation is pending from being punishable by contempt of court. Indeed, Holly’s contentions in this case are, in essence, that Ronald breached the Mediation Agreement and in the course of doing so made fraudulent statements—or at least committed fraudulent nondisclosure—toward Holly. In our view, it would stretch the meaning of subsection (4) of the contempt statute well beyond its intended meaning if facts like these, even if true, were determined to fall within its ambit.

¶17      Holly next contends that the district court could also have been relying on subsection (5), which allows a court to punish “disobedience of any lawful judgment, order or process of the court.” Utah Code Ann. § 78B-6-301(5) (2012). But the district court did not reference any judgment or order that it believed Ronald disobeyed. Instead, the only document the court mentioned was the Mediation Agreement; the court faulted Ronald for failing “to act as agreed between the parties on June 16, 2016.” It is undisputed that, as part of the Mediation Agreement, Ronald agreed to pay half of the parties’ 2015 tax obligation, and that he did not ever actually do so. But the Mediation Agreement was not an order of the court; it was just a private agreement between two parties. Breach of a private agreement that has not yet been made an order of the court cannot be a violation of subsection (5) of the contempt statute.[5]

¶18 Holly attempts to defend the court’s contempt order by asserting that Ronald was not only in violation of the parties’ private Mediation Agreement, but that he was also in violation of the Decree, and that—even though the district court made no mention of it—the district court intended to hold Ronald in contempt for failure to comply with the terms of the Decree. For support, Holly directs our attention to paragraph 9(r) of the Decree, which is the paragraph setting forth the parties’ rights and obligations regarding the 2015 tax obligation. As noted above, that paragraph states that Holly is to receive any 2015 tax refund to which the parties may be entitled, but that Holly “shall also be responsible to pay any tax liabilities resulting to any of the Parties for the year 2015.” The plain terms of the Decree (as opposed to the Mediation Agreement) obligate Holly to pay the entirety of the parties’ 2015 tax obligation, whatever that obligation might be. While Ronald’s failure to pay half of that obligation may well violate the terms of the Mediation Agreement, such failure clearly does not violate the terms of the Decree, because the Decree imposed upon Ronald no obligation to pay any of the parties’ 2015 tax obligation.

¶19      Holly argues, however, that paragraph 9(r) of the Decree is at least ambiguous, and asks us to consider parol evidence, most notably the Mediation Agreement, in construing its terms. Holly maintains that the “ambiguity” contained in paragraph 9(r) was “the presence or absence of a tax refund,” and asserts that she only agreed to the terms of the Decree because she believed that she would receive a tax refund. Holly’s argument fails, however, because the plain language of the Decree is not itself ambiguous, and clearly obligates her—and not Ronald—to pay any outstanding tax liability. A provision is ambiguous only if “its terms are capable of more than one reasonable interpretation because of uncertain meanings of terms, missing terms, or other facial ambiguities.” See Mind & Motion Utah Investments, LLC v. Celtic Bank Corp., 2016 UT 6, ¶ 24, 367 P.3d 994 (quotation simplified). If the language is not ambiguous, “the parties’ intentions are determined from the plain meaning of the contractual language, and the contract may be interpreted as a matter of law.” Id. (quotation simplified). “Terms are not ambiguous simply because one party seeks to endow them with a different interpretation according to his or her own interests.” Id. (quotation simplified). Instead, “the proffered alternative interpretations must be plausible and reasonable in light of the language used.” Id. (quotation simplified).

¶20 Holly’s interpretation of the language contained in paragraph 9(r) is simply not “plausible and reasonable in light of the language used.” Id. Where the language clearly imposes upon Holly the obligation to pay whatever tax obligation the parties owed for the 2015 tax year, any interpretation that imposes that obligation, even in part, upon Ronald is simply not consonant with the plain meaning of the language used. Accordingly, Ronald’s failure to pay any portion of the parties’ 2015 tax obligation is not a violation of the plain terms of the Decree, and therefore the district court could not have properly held Ronald in contempt of court on that basis.

CONCLUSION

¶21      A statutory contempt remedy simply does not fit the facts of this case, even if we assume that Holly’s version of the facts is correct. Ronald did not commit deceit on the court, nor did he violate an order or judgment of the court. He appears to have violated the terms of the Mediation Agreement, and—although we express no opinion on the matter—he may have committed fraud or fraudulent nondisclosure upon Holly in the time period between the mediation and the entry of the Decree. But Holly’s remedy, if any, for Ronald’s actions must be found somewhere other than the contempt statute.[6] We vacate nearly the entirety[7] of the district court’s contempt order, including its order that Ronald pay attorney fees, and remand this case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

[1] Because both parties share the same surname, we identify the parties by their first names throughout this opinion. We intend no disrespect by the apparent informality.

[2] Among other additional arguments, Ronald also takes issue with certain of the district court’s factual findings supporting its contempt determination, but because we determine that the facts as set forth by Holly cannot constitute statutory contempt as a legal matter, we need not consider any of Ronald’s other arguments, including whether the district court clearly erred in any of its factual determinations.

[3] Under Utah law, courts also have inherent (non-statutory) contempt powers. See Chen v. Stewart, 2005 UT 68, ¶ 36, 123 P.3d 416 (“A court’s authority to sanction contemptuous conduct is both statutory and inherent.”). In this case, however, Holly did not ask the district court to invoke its inherent powers and, in its order, the district court did not expressly invoke any such powers. On appeal, Holly defends the district court’s order by asserting that the court had the statutory power to issue its contempt order. Because the district court does not appear to have invoked its inherent power, and because Holly does not argue that it did, we do not address whether the district court would have had the power to hold Ronald in contempt of court pursuant to its inherent (as opposed to its statutory) authority.

[4] During the course of the hearing on Holly’s order to show cause, Ronald testified that he had a meeting with Holly in July 2016 where she agreed to pay all of the 2015 taxes. Holly denied that any such meeting ever occurred, and denied ever agreeing to pay the entirety of the 2015 tax obligation. The district court credited Holly’s version of those events, and made a finding that Ronald was “not telling the truth” in setting forth his version. However, there is no indication in the remainder of the court’s contempt order that it intended to hold Ronald in contempt for the particular statement that it found was not true. The court’s specific contempt finding lists only “deceit” in “fail[ing] to act as agreed between the parties on June 16, 2016,” and makes no attempt to ground a contempt finding on any “deceit” associated with Ronald’s testimony about the July 2016 meeting.

[5] The district court ordered the parties to participate in mediation. However, Holly makes no claim that Ronald failed to participate in mediation, or that the district court intended to hold Ronald in contempt for violating its order that the parties participate in mediation. See, e.g., Rawlings v. Rawlings, 2008 UT App 478 ¶¶ 24-28, 200 P.3d 662 (holding that while complete failure to participate in court-ordered mediation may constitute a violation of a court order to participate in mediation in good faith, participating with no intention of making or considering any settlement offers does not), reversed on other grounds by Rawlings v. Rawlings, 2010 UT 50, 240 P.3d 754.

[6] For instance, a party in Holly’s situation could, among other options, (a) elect to file a petition to modify the Decree, asserting a substantial and material change in circumstances; (b) file a motion, pursuant to rule 60(b)(3) of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure, seeking relief from the terms of the Decree on the basis of fraud; or (c) file a separate lawsuit alleging fraud, fraudulent nondisclosure, or some other appropriate cause of action, and seeking damages. We express no opinion about whether, on the facts presented here, Holly would be entitled to relief under any of these options.

[7] We do not vacate Paragraphs 20–22 of the district court’s contempt order. In those paragraphs, the district court determined that Holly had failed to comply with the provision of the Decree that required her to pass along to Ronald certain rebate checks that she might receive. Holly has not appealed those findings, and takes no issue with them in the context of Ronald’s appeal. On remand, the district court may revisit the question of whether Holly is entitled to offset her obligation to Ronald regarding the rebate checks against any other obligation Ronald may owe her, or whether a judgment in Ronald’s favor regarding the rebate checks is appropriate.

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What is OSC?

QUESTION:

I hear about holding an ex who is not complying with the provisions of the Decree of Divorce or other court orders held accountable with an “OSC” What is an “OSC”?

ANSWER: “OSC” means order to show cause.

When a party is not complying with the provisions of a court order, the other party can move to have the non-compliant party sanctioned through a “motion for order to show cause” as to why he/she should not be found to be in contempt and sanctioned accordingly.

Briefly, if your ex violates a provision of the decree or other court order, you can file a motion asking the court to order your ex to come to court and explain (if your ex can) why your ex should not be punished by the court for non-compliance (or “encouraged to comply”) with the court’s orders. If your ex doesn’t have a valid excuse, the court will sanction your ex and/or compensate you for your trouble.

There are some specific contempt of course provisions that apply only to divorce and other domestic relations cases:

78B-6-315.  Noncompliance with child support order.

(1) When a court of competent jurisdiction, or the Office of Recovery Services pursuant to an action under Title 63G, Chapter 4, Administrative Procedures Act, makes an order requiring a parent to furnish support or necessary food, clothing, shelter, medical care, or other remedial care for his child, and the parent fails to do so, proof of noncompliance shall be prima facie evidence of contempt of court.

(2) Proof of noncompliance may be demonstrated by showing that:

(a) the order was made, and filed with the district court; and

(b) the parent knew of the order because:

(i) the order was mailed to the parent at his last-known address as shown on the court records;

(ii) the parent was present in court at the time the order was pronounced;

(iii) the parent entered into a written stipulation and the parent or counsel for the parent was sent a copy of the order;

(iv) counsel was present in court and entered into a stipulation which was accepted and the order based upon the stipulation was then sent to counsel for the parent; or

(v) the parent was properly served and failed to answer.

(3) Upon establishment of a prima facie case of contempt under Subsection (2), the obligor under the child support order has the burden of proving inability to comply with the child support order.

(4) A court may, in addition to other available sanctions, withhold, suspend, or restrict the use of driver’s licenses, professional and occupational licenses, and recreational licenses and impose conditions for reinstatement upon a finding that:

(a) an obligor has:

(i) made no payment for 60 days on a current obligation of support as set forth in an administrative or court order and, thereafter, has failed to make a good faith effort under the circumstances to make payment on the support obligation in accordance with the order; or

(ii) made no payment for 60 days on an arrearage obligation of support as set forth in a payment schedule, written agreement with the Office of Recovery Services, or an administrative or judicial order and, thereafter, has failed to make a good faith effort under the circumstances to make payment on the arrearage obligation in accordance with the payment schedule, agreement, or order; and

(iii) not obtained a judicial order staying enforcement of the support or arrearage obligation for which the obligor would be otherwise delinquent;

(b) a custodial parent has:

(i) violated a parent-time order by denying contact for 60 days between a noncustodial parent and a child and, thereafter, has failed to make a good faith effort under the circumstances to comply with a parent-time order; and

(ii) not obtained a judicial order staying enforcement of the parent-time order; or

(c) an obligor or obligee, after receiving appropriate notice, has failed to comply with a subpoena or order relating to a paternity or child support proceeding.

 

78B-6-316.  Compensatory service for violation of parent-time order or failure to pay child support.

(1)        If a court finds by a preponderance of the evidence that a parent has refused to comply with the minimum amount of parent-time ordered in a decree of divorce, the court shall order the parent to:

(a) perform a minimum of 10 hours of compensatory service; and

(b) participate in workshops, classes, or individual counseling to educate the parent about the importance of complying with the court order and providing a child a continuing relationship with both parents.

(2) If a custodial parent is ordered to perform compensatory service or undergo court-ordered education, there is a rebuttable presumption that the noncustodial parent be granted parent-time by the court to provide child care during the time the custodial parent is complying with compensatory service or education in order to recompense him for parent-time wrongfully denied by the custodial parent under the divorce decree.

(3) If a noncustodial parent is ordered to perform compensatory service or undergo court-ordered education, the court shall attempt to schedule the compensatory service or education at times that will not interfere with the noncustodial parent’s parent-time with the child.

(4) The person ordered to participate in court-ordered education is responsible for expenses of workshops, classes, and individual counseling.

(5) If a court finds by a preponderance of the evidence that an obligor, as defined in Section 78B-12-102, has refused to pay child support as ordered by a court in accordance with Title 78B, Chapter 12, Utah Child Support Act, the court shall order the obligor to:

(a) perform a minimum of 10 hours of compensatory service; and

(b) participate in workshops, classes, or individual counseling to educate the obligor about the importance of complying with the court order and providing the children with a regular and stable source of support.

(6) The obligor is responsible for the expenses of workshops, classes, and individual counseling ordered by the court.

(7) If a court orders an obligor to perform compensatory service or undergo court-ordered education, the court shall attempt to schedule the compensatory service or education at times that will not interfere with the obligor’s parent-time with the child.

(8) The sanctions that the court shall impose under this section do not prevent the court from imposing other sanctions or prevent any person from bringing a cause of action allowed under state or federal law.

(9) The Legislature shall allocate the money from the Children’s Legal Defense Account to the judiciary to defray the cost of enforcing and administering this section.

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Now let’s learn about what contempt is and how it is punished (the courts don’t like to use the word “punish,” instead they like the word “sanction,” which is, of course, a synonym for “punish,” but the courts prefer to think of sanctions only as “ways to encourage compliance,” not punishment for non-compliance, but I digress):

78B-6-301.  Acts and omissions constituting contempt.

The following acts or omissions in respect to a court or its proceedings are contempts of the authority of the court:

(1) disorderly, contemptuous, or insolent behavior toward the judge while holding the court, tending to interrupt the course of a trial or other judicial proceeding;

(2) breach of the peace, boisterous conduct or violent disturbance, tending to interrupt the due course of a trial or other judicial proceeding;

(3) misbehavior in office, or other willful neglect or violation of duty by an attorney, counsel, clerk, sheriff, or other person appointed or elected to perform a judicial or ministerial service;

(4) deceit, or abuse of the process or proceedings of the court, by a party to an action or special proceeding;

(5) disobedience of any lawful judgment, order or process of the court;

(6) acting as an officer, attorney or counselor, of a court without authority;

(7) rescuing any person or property that is in the custody of an officer by virtue of an order or process of the court;

(8) unlawfully detaining a witness or party to an action while going to, remaining at, or returning from, the court where the action is on the calendar for trial;

(9) any other unlawful interference with the process or proceedings of a court;

(10) disobedience of a subpoena duly served, or refusing to be sworn or to answer as a witness;

(11) when summoned as a juror in a court, neglecting to attend or serve, or improperly conversing with a party to an action to be tried at the court, or with any other person, concerning the merits of an action, or receiving a communication from a party or other person in respect to it, without immediately disclosing the communication to the court; and

(12) disobedience by an inferior tribunal, magistrate or officer of the lawful judgment, order or process of a superior court, or proceeding in an action or special proceeding contrary to law, after the action or special proceeding is removed from the jurisdiction of the inferior tribunal, magistrate or officer. Disobedience of the lawful orders or process of a judicial officer is also a contempt of the authority of the officer.

78B-6-302.  Contempt in immediate presence of court — Summary action — Outside presence of court — procedure.

(1) When a contempt is committed in the immediate view and presence of the court, or judge at chambers, it may be punished summarily. An order shall be made, reciting the facts occurring in the immediate view and presence of the court. The order shall state that the person proceeded against is guilty of a contempt and shall be punished as prescribed in Section 78B-6-310.

(2) When the contempt is not committed in the immediate view and presence of the court or judge, an affidavit or statement of the facts by a judicial officer shall be presented to the court or judge of the facts constituting the contempt.

78B-6-303.  Warrant of attachment or commitment order to show cause.

If the contempt is not committed in the immediate view and presence of the court or judge, a warrant of attachment may be issued to bring the person charged to answer. If there is no previous arrest, a warrant of commitment may, upon notice, or upon an order to show cause, be granted. A warrant of commitment may not be issued without a previous attachment to answer, or a notice or order to show cause.

78B-6-310.  Contempt — Action by court.

The court shall determine whether the person proceeded against is guilty of the contempt charged. If the court finds the person is guilty of the contempt, the court may impose a fine not exceeding $1,000, order the person incarcerated in the county jail not exceeding 30 days, or both. However, a justice court judge or court commissioner may punish for contempt by a fine not to exceed $500 or by incarceration for five days or both.

78B-6-311.  Damages to party aggrieved.

(1) If an actual loss or injury to a party in an action or special proceeding is caused by the contempt, the court, in lieu of or in addition to the fine or imprisonment imposed for the contempt, may order the person proceeded against to pay the party aggrieved a sum of money sufficient to indemnify and satisfy the aggrieved party’s costs and expenses. The court may order that any bail posted by the person proceeded against be used to satisfy all or part of the money ordered to be paid to the aggrieved party. The order and the acceptance of money under it is a bar to an action by the aggrieved party for the loss and injury.

(2) A judgment creditor may request that the court pay bail posted by a judgment debtor to the judgment creditor if:

(a) the judgment debtor owes the judgment creditor funds pursuant to a court-ordered judgment;

(b) the judgment creditor provides the court with a copy of the valid judgment; and

(c) bail was posted in cash, or by credit or debit card.

(3)        Upon receipt of a request by a judgment creditor, the court shall require the judgment debtor to provide either proof of payment or good cause why the court should not order the forfeiture of bail to then be paid to the judgment creditor. The court shall find that good cause exists if the judgment debtor provides admissible evidence that the bail was paid by a third party.

(4)        The court may, in its discretion, order all or a portion of the funds deposited with the court as bail to be paid to the judgment creditor towards the amount of the judgment. If the amount paid to the court exceeds the amount of the judgment, the court shall refund the excess to the judgment debtor.

(5)        Within seven days of the receipt of funds, the judgment creditor shall provide to the judgment debtor an accounting of amounts received and the balance still due, if any.

78B-6-312.  Imprisonment to compel performance.

When the contempt consists of the omission to perform an act enjoined by law, which is yet in the power of the person to perform, the person may be imprisoned until the act is performed, or until released by the court. The act shall be specified in the warrant of commitment.

Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277

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