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Hampton v. Hampton

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Twelfth District, Warren

July 15, 2019

MICHELLE L. HAMPTON, Appellee,
v.
KENNETH D. HAMPTON, Appellant.

          APPEAL FROM WARREN COUNTY COURT OF COMMON PLEAS DOMESTIC RELATIONS DIVISION Case No. 12DR35468

          Diehl & Hubbell, LLC, Martin E. Hubbell, for appellee

          Ostrowski Law Firm Co., L.P.A., Andrea G. Ostrowski, for appellant

          OPINION

          PIPER, J.

         {¶ 1} Appellant, Kenneth Hampton ("Husband"), appeals a decision of the Warren County Court of Common Pleas, Domestic Relations Division, ordering him to pay spousal support arrearages to appellee, Michelle Hampton ("Wife").

         {¶ 2} Husband and Wife were married in 1996 and had two children before divorcing in 2012. At the time of their separation, the parties entered a shared parenting plan regarding their children, as well as a separation agreement. Within the separation agreement, Husband agreed to pay Wife $1, 000 per month in spousal support until either party's death, Wife's remarriage, or the expiration of 45 months, whichever occurred first. The separation agreement noted that the support payments "shall be modifiable in the event of cohabitation" by Wife. The agreement also specified that the trial court would not retain jurisdiction over the matter "as to the issue of amount or duration of spousal support," other than the retirement accounts of the parties.

         {¶ 3} In October 2013, Wife moved into her boyfriend's home. During this time, Wife and her boyfriend had an intimate relationship and shared expenses for the home. Wife paid the electricity, garbage pickup, and cable bills, and also purchased the majority of groceries for the home. Husband stopped paying spousal support given Wife's cohabitation with her boyfriend. Soon thereafter, Wife challenged Husband's decision to stop paying her and the two agreed that Husband would pay Wife $400 per month in spousal support and allow Wife to claim their younger child on her taxes.

         {¶ 4} In July 2014, Wife moved out of her boyfriend's home and the two ended their relationship. However, two months later, Wife and her boyfriend reunited and were soon engaged. In 2015, Wife and her fiancé bought a home together and Husband stopped paying spousal support once again due to Wife's cohabitation.

         {¶ 5} In 2016, and after the 45-month time frame for support had passed, Wife filed a motion for contempt alleging that Husband failed to pay her spousal support according to the separation agreement at $1, 000 per month. Husband countered with the agreement he and Wife made regarding the tax exemption and $400 per month support payment. A magistrate determined that the $1, 000 amount was correct, and ordered Husband to pay Wife spousal support arrearages of $18, 767.52. After Husband filed objections to the magistrate's decision, the trial court upheld the magistrate's decision in part, but remanded the issue to the magistrate for consideration of Husband's equitable defenses.

         {¶ 6} The magistrate determined that Husband's equitable defenses were not meritorious and ordered Husband to pay the full arrearages. Husband filed objections to the magistrate's decision, which the trial court overruled. Husband now appeals the trial court's judgment, raising two assignments of error for review.

         {¶ 7} Assignment of Error No. 1:

         {¶ 8} THE TRIAL COURT'S DECISION THAT APPELLANT OWED BASED UPON THE FULL ORIGINAL AMOUNT OF SPOUSAL SUPPORT SHOULD BE REVERSED DUE TO THE PARTIES['] AGREED UPON MODIFICATION.

         {¶ 9} Husband argues in his first assignment of error that the trial court erred by ordering him to pay spousal support of $1, 000 per month.

         {¶ 10} Because a separation agreement is a contract, it is subject to the same rules of construction as other contracts and its interpretation is a matter of law. Clark v. Clark, 12th Dist. Butler No. CA2008-10-244, 2009-Ohio-2803, ¶ 12. Therefore, this court applies a de novo standard of review when reviewing issues of contract interpretation. Meyer v. Meyer, 12th Dist. Butler No. CA2015-12-225, 2016-Ohio-8100. When confronted with an issue of contract ...


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