Trial Court’s Handling of Contempt Satisfied Due Process Standards

Family Law Case Review

In re the Marriage of: Thomas Todd Reynolds v. Tricia Reynolds
by Mike Kohlhaas, Bingham Greenebaum Doll

HELD: Trial court’s finding of Father in contempt, for failing to provide tax and income documents required under the parties’ Decree to calculate irregular income for child support, was not an abuse of discretion. The trial court’s handling of the matter satisfied Father’s due process rights, even if it did not strictly comply with Indiana’s contempt statute.

HELD: The provision of the contempt statute that requires a trial court to give a party “an opportunity to purge himself of contempt” was not applicable in this instance because Father was not sentenced to jail time. Even were that not the case, the contempt statute requires the trial court to extend an opportunity to purge “on proper showing,” and the record supported a conclusion that no such “proper showing” was made.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY:
Mother and Father divorced in 2010. The Decree and a subsequent modification included terms to address Father’s fluctuating, irregular income. In 2014, Mother filed a verified motion for rule to show cause against Father, pursuant to which Mother sought various income and tax documents from Father. After Father failed to provide all of the requested documents, Mother filed a motion to compel.

After a subsequent hearing, the trial court found Father in contempt for failing to provide Mother with tax documents for 2010 forward, per the parties’ Decree. Father was ordered to provide those documents within 30 days, and was ordered to pay $3,000 towards Mother’s fees. Father appealed.

In a memorandum decision, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court because: (1) the trial court did not strictly comply with Indiana’s contempt statute; and (2) the trial court failed to give Father a way to purge himself of the contempt.

On transfer, the Indiana Supreme Court affirmed the contempt finding. The Court concluded that strict compliance with Indiana’s contempt statute is not necessarily required, if it can be demonstrated that the trial court’s handling of the contempt nevertheless satisfied due process standards. The Court concluded that Mother’s verified petition for rule to show cause fairly put Father on notice of the contempt related allegations levied against him.

The Court also disagreed with the Court of Appeals’ conclusion that Father was entitled an opportunity to purge himself of contempt. The contempt statute includes the provision that: “The court shall, on proper showing . . . give the defendant a reasonable and just opportunity to be purged of the contempt.” Ind. Code 34-47-3-5(c). The Supreme Court concluded this provision was inapplicable to the instant case, because that provision applies only to contempt orders that impose jail time. Further, even if this provision did apply, the record indicates that there was no “proper showing” that Father was entitled to an opportunity to purge.

The trial court’s contempt order was affirmed.

Justice Slaughter dissented, writing that, by enacting the Indiana contempt statute, the legislature was electing to impose procedural safeguards that exceeded bare minimum due process requirements. Given the trial court’s acknowledged failure to comply with the statute, he would have reversed.

To view the text of this opinion in its entirety, click here: In re the Marriage of: Thomas Todd Reynolds v. Tricia Reynolds

 

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James A. Reed and Michael R. Kohlhaas of Bingham Greenebaum Doll represent clients in a wide spectrum of relationship transition and wealth planning matters, including premarital agreements, estate planning, cohabitation, separation, divorce (especially involving high net worth individuals and/or complex asset issues), custody, parenting arrangements, adoption, and domestic partnerships. Bingham Greenebaum Doll, a multidisciplinary law firm serving regional, national, and international clients, is the fourth-largest law firm in Indiana. The firm’s main practices include corporate, property, litigation, labor, government law, and personal services law. Visit the firm’s website at www.bgdlegal.com.

ICLEF • Indiana Continuing Legal Education Forum, Indianapolis, IN

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