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Adams v. Adams

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eleventh District, Lake

December 28, 2017

MARY BETH ADAMS, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
DERRICK ANDREW ADAMS, Defendant-Appellant.

         Civil Appeal from the Lake County Court of Common Pleas, Domestic Relations Division, Case No. 2001 DR 000241.

          Cory R. Hinton, Hanahan & Hinton, LLC, 8570 Mentor Avenue, Mentor, OH 44094 (For Plaintiff-Appellee).

          John W. Shryock, John Shryock Co., L.P.A., 30601 Euclid Avenue, Wickliffe, OH 44092 (For Defendant-Appellant).

          OPINION

          DIANE V. GRENDELL, J.

         {¶1} Defendant-appellant, Derrick Andrew Adams, appeals from the judgment of the Lake County Common Pleas, Domestic Relations Division, finding that plaintiff-appellee, Mary Beth Adams, was not in contempt for failing to pay monthly payments to Derrick pursuant to the parties' agreement. The issue to be determined in this case is whether a domestic relations court has jurisdiction to determine that a debt owed by one spouse to the other is dischargeable in bankruptcy or whether this must be raised in the bankruptcy court. For the following reasons, we reverse the judgment of the lower court and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         {¶2} On April 11, 2001, Mary Beth filed a Complaint for Divorce from Derrick.

         {¶3} A Judgment Entry of Divorce and Shared Parenting Decree was filed on December 8, 2003, granting the parties' divorce on the grounds of incompatibility. In pertinent part, the judgment provided that Derrick be awarded a portion of Mary Beth's retirement benefits.

         {¶4} Derrick filed a Motion to Show Cause on November 13, 2013, arguing, inter alia, that he believed Mary Beth "retired from her employment without taking action to preserve the portion of the marital interest in the [retirement] plan awarded to defendant." The parties reached an agreement to resolve several pending issues, including Derrick's Motion, in a February 10, 2015 Agreed Judgment Entry. It provided, in pertinent part, that Mary Beth would pay Derrick $13, 000 at a rate of $300 per month.

         {¶5} On February 16, 2016, Derrick filed a Motion to Show Cause, asserting, inter alia, that Mary Beth had not made the required monthly payments. A hearing was held on that matter, as well as other pending issues, on November 8, 2016.

         {¶6} At the hearing, Mary Beth testified that the $13, 000 amount was based on payments owed to Derrick under her pension before he started receiving employer disbursements and for dependency exemptions she had improperly claimed. She made monthly payments from February until April of 2015, around which time she filed for bankruptcy. She believed that the $13, 000 was dischargeable through bankruptcy and that, pursuant to the bankruptcy judge's order, all of her debts were discharged. She testified that the order did not list individual creditors.

         {¶7} A Magistrate's Decision was filed on January 10, 2017, finding that Mary Beth did not pay under the agreement and proof was not presented to show the amount owed was discharged in bankruptcy. She was found to be in contempt of the court's order and was permitted to purge the contempt by paying $420 per month until the $13, 000 debt was satisfied.

         {¶8} Mary Beth filed Objections to Magistrate's Decision on March 3, 2017, arguing that a federal court must determine dischargeability of a debt and that Derrick did not challenge this issue in the bankruptcy proceeding.

         {¶9} The trial court issued a Judgment Entry on April 12, 2017, ruling on the objections and rejecting in part the Magistrate's Decision. The court found that "it was the Defendant's responsibility to challenge the dischargeability of the Plaintiff's $13, 000 debt to him in federal bankruptcy court. State courts have no jurisdiction to alter a federal bankruptcy court's determination of a debt's dischargeability." It granted the objection and rejected the magistrate's contempt finding as to this issue.

         {¶10} Derrick timely appeals and raises the following ...


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