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Deline v. Deline

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division I

December 4, 2019

MICHAEL DELINE APPELLANT
v.
JAIME DELINE APPELLEE

          APPEAL FROM THE MISSISSIPPI COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, CHICKASAWBA DISTRICT [NO. 47BDR-17-189] HONORABLE RANDY F. PHILHOURS, JUDGE

          Gibson & Thomas, P.A., by: Jeremy M. Thomas, for appellant.

          Connealy Law Firm, by: Michaelene Connealy, for appellee.

          ROBERT J. GLADWIN, Judge

         Michael Deline appeals his divorce decree in the Mississippi County Circuit Court, arguing in five points that the trial court erred by (1) denying his motion for continuance; (2) restricting his visitation rights; (3) setting child support; (4) awarding spousal support to appellee Jaime Deline; and (5) awarding attorney's fees to Jaime. We affirm.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         The parties were married on June 25, 2009, and they have one daughter, EA, who was born later the same year. Jaime filed a complaint for divorce on July 11, 2017, seeking sole custody of EA, restricted visitation rights for Michael, child support, spousal support, and certain property. On July 18, Michael answered and counterclaimed for divorce, custody, and child support, and he alleged that Jaime had wrongfully obtained an ex parte order of protection against him and that he had not had visitation since that time.[1] By separate order, an attorney ad litem was appointed to represent EA.

         A temporary hearing was held August 4, and the resulting order was filed October 13. In the order, Jaime was awarded temporary custody subject to Michael's visitation every other weekend on Saturday and Sunday from 9:00 a.m. until 8:00 p.m. Child support ($691 a month or $160 a week) and spousal support ($1, 114.89 a month or $257.48 a week) were awarded to Jaime based on Michael's monthly income of $5, 000. The parties were enjoined from discussing "this matter" with EA and from making any disparaging remarks about the other in EA's presence. Further, they were enjoined from "post[ing] or otherwise display[ing] any information about this matter by way of social media. [Michael] shall remove any content regarding [Jaime] or [her] son, Douglas, previously posted or otherwise displayed by way of social media." Michael was also ordered to remove Jaime's cellular phone from his "service" as soon as possible.

         Michael moved to modify the order on October 11, alleging that the child-support and spousal-support obligations were ordered when he was employed by his mother's temporary-employment agency and by his father's farming operation. He alleged that he no longer worked for either parent and that he could not find a job. He asked that both his support obligations be reduced.

         A hearing was held on April 24, 2018, and the trial court found Michael in contempt for violating its previous orders.[2] He was given a suspended thirty-day sentence based on his future compliance with the court's orders. The trial court reinstated Michael's visitation;[3] ordered Michael to remove all firearms and other weapons while EA was present for visitation; and did not prohibit Michael from photographing or videotaping EA "in the ordinary course of being a parent" but prohibited him from posting any "photos, videos, audio or any other matter, involving the minor child, the parties, the attorneys, the Court, or anything having to do with this matter" on social media. The trial court warned that a violation could result in the immediate revocation of Michael's visitation until a further hearing. The trial court also ordered that assuming Michael complied with the court's orders, his visitation would be increased to one day a week beginning June 1, 2018. Jaime was granted judgment of $2, 178 for unpaid child support and $9, 526.76 for unpaid spousal support. Michael was ordered to comply with orders and "keep current" his support obligations. Michael was also ordered to enroll in an anger-management program and to comply with any recommendations.

         The trial court issued a letter file-marked on June 28, 2018. In it, the trial court acknowledged receipt of a June 20, 2018 letter from the attorney ad litem that had caused the court to be "greatly disturbed." As a result of the allegations in the ad litem's letter, the trial court terminated all visitation between Michael and EA until a hearing could be held. The trial court also stated that it would "certainly entertain another contempt matter against [Michael], which would be heard during the hearing on the merits, which addresses his violation of a very explicit court order by way of him discussing this case with the minor child."

         Jaime filed a contempt petition on July 12 alleging that Michael was late in paying child support and that he refused to pay spousal support. She also alleged that he was in violation of the trial court's order enjoining them from disposing of their property because he had spent thousands of dollars on trips, airfare, donations, memorabilia, and furniture. She asked that he be ordered to cease his extravagant spending and to account for his expenses. She also alleged that he had violated the court's order by discussing the divorce with EA, making disparaging remarks about Jaime, and posting information about their divorce on social media. She asked that Michael's visitation be supervised, that his suspended sentence be reinstated, and that he be held in contempt.

         The attorney ad litem also filed a contempt petition on July 19. This petition alleged that since the April 24, 2018 hearing, Michael refused to abide by the trial court's rulings. She alleged that he had continued to discuss the case with EA and that he had continued to post inflammatory statements about the attorney ad litem on social media, suggesting that the ad litem takes money in return for fixing the outcomes of cases. She asked that he be held in contempt and that his suspended thirty-day sentence be revoked.

         The final hearing took place on July 25 and 26, 2018; however, Michael did not appear on the second day of trial. His attorney appeared and asked for a continuance because Michael had reported to him that he nearly "blacked out" while driving to court that morning due to high blood pressure and that he had gone to the hospital in Paragould. The trial court denied the motion and stated that it was skeptical of Michael's inability to be in court and that the court's bailiffs had predicted that Michael would use his alleged blood- pressure issues to evade being in court.

         Following the final hearing, Michael moved on August 2 for the trial court to reconsider his motion for continuance, arguing that he had experienced high blood pressure and physical symptoms on the first day of the hearing, and on the second day, he had a "near syncope" event on his way to court, causing him to almost crash his vehicle. He claimed that rather than drive on to Blytheville, he drove himself to the emergency room in Paragould, where he was treated for high blood pressure. He attached medical records to his motion and asked the trial court to reconsider its ruling and withhold its final ruling until he could testify. The trial court did not rule on Michael's motion for reconsideration.

         The parties' divorce decree was filed September 6, 2018, and it grants Jaime a divorce and custody of EA. Michael's visitation is reinstated but limited to Saturday and Sunday, once a month, from 10:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. He is also given some limited holiday visitation. The trial court ordered that Michael's visitation would remain in place "unless and until he petitioned for it to be otherwise and unless Michael and EA participate in family therapy" as further described in the decree. The decree states in part:

10. The Court specifically addressed the Attorney ad Litem and stated that she has done as impressive a job as he has ever seen by an Attorney ad Litem in the face of phenomenally unfair, misdirected, classless attacks over and over and over again based on the pictures he had seen and the testimony that he heard.
11. The Court took these behaviors into account, along with everything else, when it decided visitation, how much visitation, and who may supervise visitation, if anybody.
15. The Court is very leery of letting children dictate how visitation works because it doesn't know whose agenda sometimes it truly is, and they are children. The . . . minor child is as bright and precocious and articulate a child as it has seen. Therefore, the Court is very cognizant of what the minor child stated on the witness stand and what her preferences are. The minor child's attitude toward her father during her testimony was significantly different, markedly different from the attitude she had the first time she testified in Jonesboro, which was some time before April 24, 2018. The Court finds that it is very clear that what happened to cause the change in attitude was the ...

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