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Civil Contempt; Rule 70A, Ala. R. Civ. P.

Williams v. Williams, [Ms. 2180981, Sept. 25, 2020], ___ So. 3d ___ (Ala. Civ. App. 2020). The court (Donaldson, J.; Edwards and Hanson, JJ., concur; Moore, J., concurs specially; Thompson, P.J., concurs in the result) reverses a Jefferson Circuit Court judgment holding a former husband in civil contempt for not paying retirement benefits to his former wife in conformance with a judgment of divorce. The husband argued on appeal he could not be held in civil contempt because the divorce judgment required only that the retirement benefits be paid through a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (“QDRO”), but the Retirement Systems of Alabama had refused to honor the QDRO.

The court first explains the standard of review from a trial court’s finding of civil contempt:

“We review the trial court’s finding of civil contempt under the following well settled standard of review.

“‘The issue whether to hold a party in contempt is solely within the discretion of the trial court, and a trial court’s contempt determination will not be reversed on appeal absent a showing that the trial court acted outside its discretion or that its judgment is not supported by the evidence. Brown v. Brown, 960 So. 2d 712, 716 (Ala. Civ. App. 2006) (affirming a trial court’s decision not to hold a parent in contempt for failure to pay child support when the parent testified that he had deducted from his monthly child-support payment the amount he had expended to buy clothes for the children).’

Poh v. Poh, 64 So. 3d 49, 61 (Ala. Civ. App. 2010).

“‘Rule 70A, Ala. R. Civ. P., has governed contempt proceedings in civil actions since July 11, 1994. Rule 70A(a)(2)(D) defines “civil contempt” as a “willful, continuing failure or refusal of any person to comply with a court’s lawful writ, subpoena, process, order, rule, or command that by its nature is still capable of being complied with.’”

Stamm v. Stamm, 922 So. 2d 920, 924 (Ala. Civ. App. 2004). Moreover, in order to hold a party in contempt under Rule 70A(a)(2)(D), the trial court must find that the party willfully failed or refused to comply with a court order. See T.L.D. v. C.G., 849 So. 2d 200, 205 (Ala. Civ. App. 2002).”

Kreitzberg v. Kreitzberg, 131 So. 3d 612, 627-28 (Ala. Civ. App. 2013).

Ms. **9-10.

The court explains that “[b]ecause the divorce judgment did not order the former husband not to accept his RSA retirement benefits if the RSA refused to honor the QDRO, his acceptance of those benefits could not constitute a violation of the divorce judgment and, therefore, could not constitute a basis for holding him in contempt.” Accordingly, because Rule 70A(a)(2)(D) requires that “the trial court must find that the party willfully failed or refused to comply with a court order” before there can be a finding of civil contempt, the trial court’s judgment holding appellant in civil contempt is due to be reversed. Ms. *11, quoting Kreitzberg, supra, 131 So. 3d at 628.

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