FROM THE PULASKI COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, FOURTEENTH DIVISION
[NO. 60DR-09-6263] HONORABLE VANN SMITH, JUDGE
Law Firm, by: Lee D. Short, for appellant.
& Taylor Law Firm, P.A., by: Andrew M. Taylor and Tasha
C. Taylor, for appellee.
BRANDON J. HARRISON, JUDGE
Darcey appeals the circuit court's order deciding
multiple motions for contempt and modification. She argues
that the circuit court erred in (1) altering the parties'
property-settlement agreement, (2) not finding David Matthews
in contempt on multiple issues, and (3) awarding $750 in
attorney's fees on the child-support issue. We reverse on
Darcey's first argument but affirm on the remaining ones.
parties divorced in January 2011 after a fifteen-year
marriage. They have two children: ten-year-old E.M. and
six-year-old C.M. Darcey was awarded primary custody of the
children, and Matthews was awarded visitation in accordance
with the property-settlement agreement (PSA) attached to the
divorce decree. Pursuant to the PSA, Matthews agreed to pay
$2, 000 a month in child support, to keep the children on
their current medical insurance, and to "cover all
medical, dental and orthodontic expenses for the
children." The PSA also provided that Darcey would be
the owner and beneficiary of Matthews's USAA life
insurance policy and that Matthews would continue to pay for
the policy. The decree noted that the PSA "forever
settles the rights and claims of each to property and other
matters" and "shall have the same force and effect
as this Decree and shall be enforced by further orders of the
Court." The parties agreed that the PSA could be
modified by mutual agreement.
April 2014, the parties agreed to an amended PSA; the
amendment provided that Matthews would apply to reinstate his
lapsed USAA life insurance policy for $2 million and would
transfer ownership of that policy to Darcey, who would
thereafter be responsible for payment of the premiums. In the
event that USAA refused to reinstate the policy, Matthews was
required to apply for a new policy in the same amount and
transfer that policy to Darcey. The parties agreed that the
terms and conditions of the amended PSA were contractual and
not modifiable by the court. The parties also agreed that
"[i]f either party defaults in performing any obligation
under this Amended Agreement, so that the other party is
required to engage the services of an attorney to seek
enforcement or relief, the defaulting party will pay all of
both parties' reasonable attorney's fees, expenses,
and costs incurred." An amended divorce decree recited
the amended PSA verbatim and concluded that the amended PSA
was "approved and incorporated, but not merged, into
this Amendment to Divorce Decree."
August 2014, the court allowed Darcey to relocate to San
Diego, California with the children and entered an agreed
amended visitation schedule. In December 2014, the court
found Matthews in willful contempt of the previous orders and
awarded Darcey unpaid medical and other related costs in the
amount of $7, 130.67, to be paid in installments of $150 a
month. The court also reiterated its earlier order that
Matthews procure a $2 million life insurance policy. The
court ordered that Matthews pay $750 in attorney's fees,
payable within thirty days of the order being entered.
current round of litigation began soon after, in January
2015, when Darcey filed a motion for contempt based on
Matthews's failure to pay the $750 in attorney's fees
within thirty days and his failure to pay medical and
pharmacy bills forwarded to him in November and December
2015. Over the next year, Darcey filed another nine motions
for contempt, and Matthews moved to modify the terms of the
PSA and for contempt, alleging that Darcey had prevented
communication between him and the children. The circuit court
held a hearing in May 2016, and after receiving testimony
from the parties and written closing arguments from counsel,
the court entered a written order in June 2016 that included
the following findings:
8. Child Support: The Court finds that Plaintiff is
in willful contempt of the previous orders of the Court for
unilaterally reducing his child support on multiple
. . . .
14. The Defendant is awarded a judgment in the amount of $5,
333.00 constituting the Plaintiff's total child support
arrears as of April 30, 2016.
. . . .
19. The Defendant is also awarded attorney's fees and
costs of $750.00 on the matter of child support.
20. Medical Costs: The Court does not find the
Plaintiff in contempt with regard to Medical Expenses.
. . . .
24. The Defendant presented the Court with a list of medical
bills that the Plaintiff was to have paid over an eighteen
(18) month period running from November 2014 through April of
2016. By the Court's count, the Defendant has submitted
46 medical bills during that 78 week period by a myriad of
methods including text, email, and regular mail.
25. During that same 18 month period, however, the evidence
reflects that the Plaintiff did not miss a single $150.00
monthly payment towards his existing medical costs arrears as