The case of Khakee v. Rodenberger, involving Khakee (wife) and Rodenberger (husband), provides insight into how the Virginia Circuit Court handles the appeal of charges of contempt against a trial court order.
Here, the wife objects to the trial court’s order to hold her in contempt for failure to provide payments to her former husband as authorized in their settlement agreement. Claiming that the court had no jurisdiction to enforce its final order, the wife protests, saying that the court "failed to provide due process . . . [and] equal protection under the Virginia and U.S. Constitution." Regardless of these assertions, the court favored the husband, rejecting the wife’s various assertions.
Upon entering into both custody and settlement agreements in 2013, the parties affirmed that the consensus, as stated in the record, resolved any and all issues in the case, to include child support, spousal support, and grounds for divorce. The final order included the agreement that the husband would cover health and dental insurance for the children and anything not covered by insurance would be split equally between the parties. Later, the husband filed a motion to modify the custody agreement, causing the wife to file a motion for continued spousal support and amended child support. The court granted primary physical custody to the husband and granted him child support while also establishing that the wife would pay for the husband’s attorney fees within one year.
Claiming that the wife had violated the settlement agreement by refusing to pay her share of the expenses despite her being a licensed attorney with substantial assets, the husband filed a petition to the court who then found the wife in contempt. Citing Rule 1:1 (b), the wife argued that the court lacked authority to enforce its contempt order and that the court could not modify the settlement agreement by imposing fees that were not included in the original agreement. In response, the court cites Virginia Code 20-107.3, reenforcing its jurisdiction over the final order of divorce, with the power to administer further orders as necessary.
The Wife’s Arguments and the Court’s Response
The wife continued her argument by asserting five main challenges to the court’s contempt order:
- The court erred in establishing the contempt order as it created a “back door” to withdraw funds from a retirement account. She claimed that without a domestic relations order in place, this is a clear abuse of the court’s discretion.
The court responded by asserting that the wife never objected to the trial court’s decision in establishing her ability to pay the amount owed. Her claim was waived from contention.
2. The court failed to provide due process and equal protection under the Virginia and U.S. Constitution by finding her in contempt, as she did not claim to have the ability to pay the sum owed to her husband.
As previously reported, the court affirmed that she did in fact have the means to pay and did not violate her Constitutional rights as she never mentioned such violations in any lower court proceedings.
3. The court “erred in ruling that there was an ability to pay without an analysis of income and expenses, and requiring an early withdrawl...from a retirement account.”
Upon finding no such order in the record, the court restated that the wife possessed the funds to pay but never specified how she must do so, dismissing the court of any error the wife brought forth.
4. The court overstepped its contempt power in violation of the Eighth Amendment by threatening her with incarceration.
Provided the fact that the court did rule from the bench that the wife would be incarcerated if she did not meet the contempt requirements, the court’s written order did not mention incarceration. Certifying that the court acts through their written orders, any mention of incarceration was dismissed, refuting the wife’s argument.
5. The court erred in denying her motion for the order’s reconsideration.
By providing no specific arguments regarding this claim and failing to file her motion for reconsideration within the allotted 21 days for review, the wife’s request was denied.
As shown in this case, the Virginia Circuit Court justifies itself and the trial court’s decisions as conclusive in accordance to the final order of divorce. Despite her efforts, the wife’s allegations fell short of merit and did not qualify for appellate review as the court deemed her able to pay the sums required to her husband.
Khakee v. Rodenberger, Record No. 2001-18-4, (Court of Appeals of Virginia, August 27, 2019)
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Editorial Assistance by: Isabella Cruz