Officially released July 23, 2019.
In Short: You cannot meet your burden to demonstrate a substantial change in circumstances if your testimony and evidence are not credible; the trial court need not torture words to find ambiguity with regard to contempt.
The Facts: The parties had three children together and were divorced in 2011. In 2017 they entered into a post-judgment stipulation regarding parenting and child support, providing, inter alia, that it was the custodial parent’s responsibility to make arrangements for the children if the custodial parent is unavailable, absent agreement in writing from the non-custodial parent.
Thereafter, the trial court granted Wife’s motion for contempt for Husband’s violation of the aforementioned custodial provision, finding that the canvas of the parties at the time of entering into the stipulation made clear the meaning of “custodial parent” for purposes of the stipulation. The trial court granted Wife’s motion for contempt for failing to pay $3,000 toward purchase of a vehicle for the children, notwithstanding a lack of language about who would purchase such vehicle and when.
The trial court denied Husband’s motion for contempt based on res judicata. The trial court denied Husband’s motion to modify child support finding that he had not met his burden to show a substantial change in circumstances. Husband presented testimony and evidence suggesting his income had decreased substantially, but the trial court, quite reasonably, did not find his testimony or evidence credible.
On appeal, Husband argues that the trial court improperly granted Wife’s motions for contempt, improperly denied his motion for contempt and improperly denied his motion to modify child support.
Regarding the contempt motions, the standard of review is de novo as to whether the order was clear and unambiguous and abuse of discretion as to the determination of willfulness. The Appellate Court held that the context regarding custodial parent was sufficiently clear to support a finding of contempt. Further, it found no abuse of discretion as to that finding. The Appellate Court likewise held that the contract regarding purchase of a vehicle was not ambiguous and the trial court did not abuse its discretion.
The Appellate Court held that Husband’s argument as to his motion for contempt was inadequately briefed.
The Appellate Court found no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s finding that Husband’s claims of loss of income was not credible, and thus that Husband had not met his burden to demonstrate a substantial change in circumstances.