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Rhea v. Rhea

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Tenth District

June 6, 2017

Damita J. Rhea, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
Virgil C. Rhea, III, Defendant-Appellant.

         APPEAL from the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, Division of Domestic Relations, Juvenile Branch C.P.C. No. 99DR-11-4751

          On brief: Robert R. Goldstein, for appellee. Argued: Robert R. Goldstein.

          On brief: Virgil C. Rhea, III, pro se. Argued: Virgil C. Rhea, III.

          DECISION

          SADLER, J.

         {¶ 1} Defendant-appellant, Virgil C. Rhea, III, appeals from the judgment entry of the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, Division of Domestic Relations, Juvenile Branch, adopting a magistrate decision to grant in part a motion for contempt filed by plaintiff-appellee, Damita J. Rhea. For the following reasons, we affirm the decision of the trial court.

         I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         {¶ 2} The parties divorced in January 2001. The judgment entry and decree of divorce ("divorce decree") ordered appellant to pay spousal support to appellee in the amount of $1 per month, effective September 7, 2000, and awarded appellee half of appellant's civil service retirement account. The divorce decree required the spousal support withheld from appellant's income and required both parties to "cooperate in preparation and execution of QDRO [qualified domestic relations order] and/or COAP [court order acceptable for processing]" to effectuate the division of the retirement benefits. (Jgmt. Entry and Decree of Divorce at 8.)

         {¶ 3} In January 2014, appellee filed a COAP in anticipation of appellant's retirement; the signature line for appellant reads "[submitted but not approved." (COAP at 4.) The plan administrator did not accept the COAP. On approximately April 1, 2014, appellant retired and began to receive monthly payments from his retirement account. In September 2014, appellee filed an amended COAP with the signature line for appellant again reading "[submitted but not approved." (Am. COAP at 5.) The plan administrator accepted the amended COAP, and appellee began to receive a share of appellant's retirement benefits in January 2015.

         {¶ 4} On May 15, 2015, appellant filed a Civ.R. 60(B) motion for relief from judgment asking for relief from the issued COAP. In the motion, appellant asserted that he never received the COAP and that the percentage of pension benefits allocated to appellee was incorrect per the language of the divorce decree. The trial court later denied the motion finding that appellant did receive a copy of the COAP, and the COAP comported with the divorce decree.

         {¶ 5} On June 19, 2015, appellee filed a motion for contempt and attorney fees. In the motion, appellee alleged that appellant violated the divorce decree in making no payments on his spousal support obligation and in not providing appellee with her full share of the retirement account. Before a hearing on the matter, the parties stipulated that appellant received $15, 120 in retirement benefits for the time period between when he retired and when appellee began receiving payments, April 1 to December 1, 2014, and that as of March 2016, he owed spousal support of $171, plus processing charges.

         {¶ 6} At the hearing on March 30, 2016, appellant admitted that he has not paid any spousal support since January 2002 and said his one attempt to pay the support obligation through the clerk was unsuccessful. Appellant additionally testified that he began to receive retirement benefits in April 2014, discovered that appellee was not getting her share in August of the same year, and did not pay appellee any portion of the benefits. Appellant presented two defenses: that he believed he had done all that was required of him and that he was unable to pay.

         {¶ 7} The magistrate granted appellee's motion, finding appellant in contempt for his failure to pay spousal support and for failing to cooperate in the preparation of a QDRO or COAP by refusing to sign the two COAPs. While noting that the finding of contempt was not based on appellant failing to pay appellee her share of retirement benefits directly, the magistrate indicated that under the divorce degree appellant nonetheless owed appellee for her share of the retirement benefits he retained between the months of April and December 2014. As a result, the magistrate sentenced appellant to a term of incarceration of seven days and permitted appellant to purge himself of contempt and avoid incarceration by paying appellee the past due spousal support ($171), appellee's share of retirement benefits from the period April to December 2014 ($15, 120), and attorney fees and expenses ($2, 500), payable in monthly payments of no less than $500.

         {¶ 8} Appellant did not file objections to the magistrate's decision. The trial court judge, finding no error of law or other defect on the face of the magistrate's decision, adopted the magistrate's decision on August 1, 2016. Appellant filed a timely appeal to this court.

         II. ...


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