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Ward v. Ward

Superior Court of Connecticut, Judicial District of Stamford-Norwalk, Stamford

August 20, 2015

Noelle Ward
Keith Ward

Filed DAte August 21, 2015


Erika M. Tindill, J.

The Plaintiff's Motion for Contempt, Post Judgment (#319.01[1]) was filed on June 16, 2015 and came before the Court on the August 10, 2015 short calendar. The Court did not have sufficient time to conduct the hearing on that day. The matter was rescheduled for an evidentiary hearing on August 19, 2015.[2]

Both parties were present at the hearing held on August 19, 2015. The Plaintiff was represented by counsel; the Defendant was pro se . Several exhibits were entered into evidence and two witnesses other than the parties testified.[3] The Plaintiff alleges in the instant motion that the Defendant, in willful violation of a May 5, 2011 court order, has failed to pay for the parties' son, Ryan (now age 19), to attend Iona College.

The Court has considered the evidence and testimony, reviewed and considered relevant case law and statutory provisions, and has taken into account the argument of counsel to make its findings and orders.

There are three steps the Court must take when considering a motion for contempt: 1) determine whether a clear court order exists, 2) determine whether that order was violated by the party accused of doing so, and 3) if the order was in fact violated, the Court must determine whether the violation was willful. See Brody v. Brody, 315 Conn. 300, 105 A.3d 887 (2015).

1. The Existence of Clear Court Orders

The Plaintiff has met her burden of proving that a clear and concise court order existed. At the hearing, the Court took judicial notice of the May 5, 2011 stipulation of the parties which was made a court order (#231; J. Novack). The May 5, 2011 order, among other things, purported to resolve financial matters, including some related to child support and the education of parties' two sons. Germane to the instant motion is paragraph 4, which states in relevant part:

The Defendant will pay for a four year college education for each minor child at a mutually agreed upon college or university, as additional child support. The Defendant shall pay for tuition, reasonable fees typically charged by the institution, meal plans and room and board . . . [Portions omitted; emphasis added].

The Defendant does not dispute the existence of or the terms of paragraph 4 of the May 5, 2011 order. The Court finds that a clear, unambiguous order existed.

2. Violation of Court Orders

It is undisputed that the parties' intention was for Ryan to attend college. Further, the evidence before the Court confirms that the parties mutually agreed that Ryan would attend Iona College. In fact, Ryan had been accepted to Iona when he graduated from high school but deferred admission for a year. The parties agreed at that time, based on the recommendation of an inpatient drug rehabilitation program Ryan attended after high school, that it would be best if he would take some time for recovery prior to entering a post-secondary academic environment. The Defendant, therefore, pursuant to the court order, is obligated to pay for the four years of education for Ryan at Iona College. At the end of May 2015, the Defendant refused to do so. (Plaintiff's and Defendant's testimony.) The Court finds the Defendant's refusal a violation of the May 5, 2011 court order.

3. Willfulness

Based on the Defendant's own testimony, the Court finds that he was aware that the May 5, 2011 order required him to pay for Iona College. He admits to having visited Iona with his son and to having paid the deposit for Ryan's freshman year in May 2015. Further, the Defendant admits to later withdrawing his consent for Ryan to attend[4] and asking the college to refund his deposit. The Defendant testified that his change of mind (i.e. his decision to defy the court order) was due to " a plethora of things" --Ryan's attitude, his behavior, his failure or inability to discuss his economics courses with the Defendant, [5] his failure to do " mundane, routine chores, " and his disinterest in engaging with the family; the fact that Ryan got an F in each of his spring semester classes at UCONN-Stamford this year was " icing on the cake." (Defendant's testimony.) It is well-established, however, that non-compliance alone is not sufficient to find willful contempt.[6] The Court is required to consider the surrounding circumstances in order to determine the willingness of the Defendant's violation.[7] The Defendant testified that he offered three options--starting Iona in Spring 2016, taking classes at Norwalk Community College, or a transition period at St. Edmund's ...

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