Consent Decree and Modifications
The parties divorced in 2009 by consent decree where the parties agreed that “Father shall provide health insurance coverage for the minor children, unless otherwise agreed upon by the parties, in writing. Any health expenses not covered by such insurance shall be divided equally between the parties.”
A few years later, the parties modified the consent decree by agreement to allow both parties to provide medical, dental, and vision insurance for the children “to allow for maximum coverage.” The parties subsequently modified the decree again in 2015 when they agreed, among other things, that Father would pay “all up front, out of pocket costs” for their child’s medical appointments.
The Enforcement Petitions
In 2018, Father filed a petition to enforce the 2015 order regarding reimbursement of uncovered medical expenses and another petition to enforce the 2009 consent decree’s provision that required Mother to contribute $20,000 to their children’s designated education accounts.
The family court consolidated the petitions and set a trial. Prior to the hearing, Mother provided Father with information indicating compliance with the education account contribution required by the consent decree, so Father withdrew that portion of his enforcement action.
After reviewing the evidence, the family court found that Father properly informed Mother of the uncovered medical expenses and that she deliberately refused to pay. It found Mother in contempt and ordered her to pay $10,208.68 for her share of uncovered expenses and $13,413.29 in attorney’s fees.
Costs to Enforce Court Orders
Notice that Father’s attorney’s fees exceeded the amount of unreimbursed expenses Mother was ordered to pay. Because there is never any guarantee that the family court will award attorney’s fees, even when one party is found in contempt, this action easily could have cost Father more than he ultimately recovered. If you consider the fees Father presumably incurred to defend against the appeal, this still may be the case. The cost effectiveness of enforcement litigation is something every litigant should consider and discuss with a family law attorney before filing the petition.
The Previous Orders
Mother appealed and argued that the family court failed to enforce the 2013 order and the January 2015 order. Because of this, Mother argued that the award of attorney’s fees was improperly determined.
Father argued that Mother waived her argument about the 2013 order because she never filed a cross-petition to enforce that order and because it was never introduced into evidence. The Court of Appeals rejected both arguments and found that Mother argued that Father failed to comply with the 2013 order in her answer. Because the 2013 order was already part of the record, it did not need to be introduced as evidence.
The 2015 order included a provision that said, “Any and all previous Court Orders not expressly modified herein remain in full force and effect.” However, the 2015 order stipulated that Father’s insurance must be used for all of the child’s medical appointments and therefore modified the provision from 2013 that Mother sought to use as a defense.
Mother next argued that Father failed to provide evidence to prove the expenses allegedly incurred between April 1, 2017 and June 30, 2018 for which he requested reimbursement. The family court accepted a spreadsheet Father prepared that the Court of Appeals deemed to be a simple summary of the expenses without any receipts or proof that Father complied with the notice requirement. He also failed to testify about any of the expenses listed during that time frame. The Court of Appeals vacated the family court’s order and instructed it to recalculate the judgment without the unidentified expenses.
The Court of Appeals also vacated the award of attorney’s fees to be reconsidered in light of its decision regarding the petition to enforce unreimbursed expenses.