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Darcey v. Matthews

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division IV

December 13, 2017

SUSAN DARCEY APPELLANT
v.
DAVID MATTHEWS APPELLEE

         APPEAL FROM THE PULASKI COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, FOURTEENTH DIVISION [NO. 60DR-09-6263] HONORABLE VANN SMITH, JUDGE

          Short Law Firm, by: Lee D. Short, for appellant.

          Taylor & Taylor Law Firm, P.A., by: Andrew M. Taylor and Tasha C. Taylor, for appellee.

          BRANDON J. HARRISON, JUDGE

         Susan 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.

         The 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.

         In 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."

         In 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.

         The 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 occasions.
. . . .
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 ...

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