APPEAL FROM THE CLAY COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, EASTERN DISTRICT [NO. DR-2012-42] HONORABLE BRENT DAVIS, JUDGE
C.W. Knauts, for appellant.
Henry Law Firm, PLC, by: Megan Henry, for appellee.
DAVID M. GLOVER, Judge
Jerry Dean Catt appeals from the trial court's January 15, 2014 order and judgment that found him in contempt of the parties' divorce decree for failing to pay alimony to appellee, Donna Lee Catt, since April 2013 and failing to take the necessary steps to have the parties' 2010 and 2011 tax returns prepared and filed. Jerry contends: 1) the trial court erred in finding him in willful contempt, or alternatively, the 120-day jail sentence was too severe and should be modified; and 2) the hearing on the contempt petition was premature because his time to file a response had not yet expired. We affirm.
Jerry Dean Catt and Donna Lee Catt were divorced by decree entered on September 19, 2012. In pertinent part, the decree awarded alimony to Donna in the amount of $1500 a month, payable by the first of each month; found Jerry to be in contempt and awarded attorney's fees for his intentional failure to pay the temporary alimony that had been previously ordered; and ordered the parties "to take whatever steps necessary to have tax returns prepared and filed within 60 days of the entry of the Order."
Approximately four months after the decree was entered, Donna filed a contempt petition, alleging that Jerry was delinquent in the alimony payments and attorney's fees and that he had failed to have the tax returns filed as ordered. The trial court found Jerry to be in contempt, granted judgment for the alimony owed, awarded additional attorney's fees, and sentenced Jerry to sixty days in jail, which could be purged with proof of satisfaction. He provided proof of satisfaction.
On August 22, 2013, Donna filed a second petition for contempt, contending that Jerry had failed to pay the $1500 a month in alimony and that he had failed to prepare the tax returns and file them. This petition was served on Jerry November 9, 2013, while he was an inmate at the Piggott jail. Thereafter, on November 14, 2013, Jerry and Donna appeared in the trial court for a hearing on the petition, but Jerry requested and was granted a continuance so that he could engage counsel. The trial court set a new hearing date for January 2, 2014.
On January 2, 2014, both Jerry and Donna appeared for the hearing but Jerry was still not represented by counsel. The trial court reviewed that Jerry had been served with the contempt petition on November 9, 2013, that the matter had already been continued once for Jerry to obtain counsel, and that the matter needed to be taken care of that day.
In his testimony, Jerry acknowledged that he had been ordered to pay $1500 a month in alimony and to take necessary steps to have the tax returns for 2010 and 2011 filed. He also acknowledged that he had previously been held in contempt for failure to do those things. Jerry explained that he had lost everything in the divorce, that he did not have any way to pay, that his father allows him to live rent-free in the house he had originally shared with Donna, that his father also provides him with a vehicle, that he has no disability that prevents him from working, and that as of that date he owed Donna $13, 796.94. He explained that he had stock in Riceland Foods for the sale of rice, that it totaled $13, 903 at the time of the divorce, that it had not increased because he had not been farming, that during the marriage portions of his farming were for his dad, that his father owned all of the farmland and he rented land from his father, and that he (Jerry) had not farmed since 2010. Jerry stated that his accountant had given him a list of things needed for the taxes, that they had not yet been filed, but that they were "about completed." Jerry concluded his testimony by stating that he had farmed his whole life for what he had, and that he had nothing after the divorce, which was depressing.
Donna testified that she had not received any spousal support since the checks in April 2012 and that she was seeking to have Jerry found in contempt and judgment entered for $13, 796.94 and attorney's fees. Donna stated that she had attempted in the past to meet with Jerry at the accountant's office but that Jerry never did so.
At the conclusion of the hearing, the trial court found that Jerry was in willful contempt and entered judgment in favor of Donna in the amount of $13, 796.94 for alimony owed through January 2014. The court also awarded $1300 for attorney's fees in connection with the contempt matter, plus costs. Jerry was ordered to spend 120 days in jail, sixty days of which was to start immediately, with the ability to free himself from jail as soon as he paid the $13, 796.94. Once released, the court provided that Jerry then had thirty days to have the parties' tax returns filed and that if he failed to do so, the remaining sixty days of jail time were to be served.
Following the January 2, 2014 hearing, Jerry obtained counsel, and his counsel filed an answer to the contempt petition, which had already been heard at the January 2 hearing; a motion to set aside the judgment; and a notice of appeal.
For his first point of appeal, Jerry contends that he should not have been held in willful contempt, and, in the alternative, that the sanction of 120 days in jail was far too severe and should be modified. His basic contention is that his contempt could not be willful ...