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Rich v. Rich

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eleventh District

June 28, 2013

MICHELE R. RICH, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
GARY R. RICH, Defendant-Appellant.

Civil Appeal from the Trumbull County Court of Common Pleas, Domestic Relations Division, Case No. 01 DR 0318.

Carl Joseph King, (For Plaintiff-Appellee).

Martin F. White, Martin F. White Co., L.P.A., (For Defendant-Appellant).

Timothy R. Brookes, (Guardian ad litem).

OPINION

DIANE V. GRENDELL, J.

{¶1} Defendant-appellant, Gary Rich, appeals from the Judgment Entry of the Trumbull County Court of Common Pleas, Domestic Relations Division, ordering him to serve a 30-day jail term for contempt, but suspending the sentence based on certain conditions. The issue to be determined in this case is whether a court may order a party to serve a 30-day jail sentence for contempt, but suspend that sentence based on conditions that the party obeys the law and promotes a loving relationship between his children and their mother for a period of five years. For the following reasons, we reverse the decision of the court below and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

{¶2} On June 28, 2001, Michele Rich filed a Complaint for Divorce from Gary. The parties have three children together. On November 29, 2001, a Judgment Entry Decree of Divorce was filed, in which the divorce was granted and a Shared Parenting Plan was adopted. On May 24, 2002, a Journal Entry vacated the prior Entry, but the divorce remained in effect. On April 7, 2003, a Judgment Entry resolved the custody issue, approving the parties' Shared Parenting Plan.

{¶3} Subsequent litigation occurred as to various issues. On March 29, 2010, a new Shared Parenting Plan was adopted by the court.

{¶4} On June 2, 2011, Michele filed a Motion to Cite for Willful Contempt. In the Motion, she argued that Gary failed to comply with the Shared Parenting Plan by, inter alia, denying her visitation, excluding her from the children's medical appointments, and not allowing her to have telephone communication with the children.

{¶5} The court found Gary in contempt of the existing Shared Parenting Plan in a March 8, 2012 Judgment Entry, but withheld disposition pending further proceedings. Although the Judgment Entry did not state the specific reasons supporting the finding of contempt, a subsequent Judgment Entry on a Motion to Modify the Shared Parenting Plan noted that Gary was found in contempt for "his infringement on the Plaintiff/Mother's parenting time."

{¶6} On October 5, 2012, the trial court issued a Judgment Entry, rendering its sentence on the finding of contempt. The court ordered Gary to serve a 30-day jail term, but suspended the sentence based on two conditions. The court required Gary to obey all laws and court orders and to "utilize his best efforts to promote a solid and loving relationship between his minor children and their mother for a period of five years. He was also ordered to pay the costs of the action, including attorney fees and guardian ad litem fees.

{¶7} Gary timely appeals and raises the following assignment of error:[1]

{¶8} "The trial court abused its discretion and committed reversible error by improperly conditioning the suspension of Appellant's 30 day jail sentence for contempt on the condition that he 'obey all laws and Court Orders' and 'utilize his best efforts to promote a solid and loving relationship between his minor children and their mother.'"

{¶9} In contempt proceedings, "a reviewing court must uphold the trial court's decision absent a showing that the court abused its discretion." (Citations omitted.) Cireddu v. Clough, 11th Dist. No. 2010-L-008, 2010-Ohio-5401, ¶ 41; State ex rel. Ventrone v. Birkel, 65 Ohio St.2d 10, 11, 417 N.E.2d 1249 (1981). This court has described an abuse of discretion as a judgment "which does not comport with reason or the record, " and one in which the court failed "to exercise sound, reasonable, and legal ...


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