Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Summary 2011 WY 41

Summary of Decision March 9, 2011

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Summaries are prepared by Law Librarians and are not official statements of the Wyoming Supreme Court

Case Name: Walters v. Walters

Citation: 2011 WY 41

Docket Number: S-09-1052, S-10-0059


Appeal from the District Court of Larame County, Honorable Michael K. Davis, Judge

Representing Appellant (Plaintiff): Kristin Shaun Wilkerson of Trent & Wilkerson Law Office, Laramie, Wyoming

Representing Appellee (Defendant): Mary T. Parsons of Parsons & Cameron, Cheyenne, Wyoming

Date of Decision: March 9, 2011

Facts: The two appeals consolidated for decision in this opinion arise out of the divorce litigation between Appellant and Appellee. In appeal No. S-09-0152, Appellant challenges the district court’s property distribution set forth in the Judgment and Decree of Divorce. In appeal No. S-10-0059, Appellant appeals from the district court’s order in the post-divorce proceeding that found her in civil contempt and imposed sanctions.

Issues: Appeal No. S-09-0152

Whether the district court abused its discretion, commit serious procedural error and/or violate a principle of law by finding Appellant in contempt. Whether the district court abuse its discretion by punishing Appellant through its distribution of property. Whether the district court’s division of marital property was clearly erroneous, against the great weight of evidence, and/or otherwise not supported by substantial evidence.

Holdings: The record is clear that Appellant violated a court order in this case. The Court entered a mutual restraining order which would have prevented either party from expending substantial funds of the marital estate without a further order of the Court. Despite this order, Appellant used funds to build a home after it was entered. Appellant never asked the Court to authorize the expenditures. It has therefore been proven by clear and convincing evidence that Appellant willfully violated a court order and is in contempt of court. The district court did not explicitly impose a punishment or sanction on Appellant, but rather explicitly reserved sanctions “which may be imposed in the event of failure to comply with any of the divorce decree’s conditions.” Thus the district court did not punish her contemptuous conduct by awarding certain undisclosed property to Appellee in the division of marital property. Appellant is unable to indicate what property was awarded to him as punishment. The district court has considerable discretion to form a distributive scheme appropriate to the peculiar circumstances of the individual case including the respective merits and credibility of the parties. Both parties presented evidence about the origin and value of the marital property in question and the district court properly considered that evidence in making the property division. A review of the record shows that that the district court could reasonably conclude as it did when dividing the property and that it is equitable from the perspective of the overall distribution of marital assets and liabilities.

The Judgment and Decree of Divorce is affirmed.

Issues: Appeal No. S-10-0059

Whether Appellee proved that Appellant violated court orders issued in the divorce proceedings. Whether the district court abused its discretion, committed procedural error, or violated a principle of law by finding Appellant in civil contempt of court and awarding compensatory damages of $10,000.00.

Holdings: Having heard the testimony and considered the evidence concerning the alleged violations the district court concluded that the Appellee had proven by clear and convincing evidence that Appellant willfully failed to return the property and documents that she had been ordered to return to Appellee in the divorce decree. The district court was in the best position to assess the witnesses’ credibility and weigh their testimony. A review of the entire record shows that the district court’s factual findings were not clearly erroneous. However, no evidence of Appellee’s actual losses was presented and, absent that, the sum of $10,000 awarded to him is speculative and arbitrary and, reluctantly, cannot stand. Consequently, the award is reversed.

J. Golden delivered the opinion for the court.

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