In a recent Court of Appeals opinion, In the Matter of the Marriage of McCleskey, the trial court’s authority to force compliance with a court order through its contempt power was explored. All courts have the power to hold a party in contempt for conduct that disobeys a direct court order, or for conduct in the courtroom which obstructs the orderly administration of justice.
Pursuant to the McCleskey’s separation contract, the wife was entitled to a share of profit distributions from the husband’s employee stock plan. After the husband redeemed his stock and ended the profit distributions, the wife filed a motion for contempt to enforce the terms of the separation contract. To decide the issue of contempt the court needed to determine the meaning of the language used in the separation contract and whether the husband complied with the agreement.
Separation Contract Details
The Appellate Court agreed with the lower court that the husband had not violated the terms of the separation contract, and therefore could not be held in contempt. Both courts found that the separation contract was clear and unambiguous and did not prohibit the husband from redeeming his stock before the profit distribution was due. The court did not agree with the wife’s argument that the contempt motion should include sanctions for the husband’s alleged breach of fiduciary duty.
The separation contract also provided that attorney fees should be awarded to the prevailing party to any proceeding brought to enforce the contract. Therefore, the husband was awarded the attorney fees and costs he incurred to defend the action.
Separation Attorney in Washington
This case demonstrates the importance of a well-written separation contract, with clear and unambiguous terms. The Bellevue, Washington divorce attorneys at Molly B. Kenny have years of experience drafting and negotiating detailed, complex separation contracts.