Husband held in contempt for non-payment despite waiver

A husband could be cited for contempt of court for failing to make agreed-upon payments to his ex-wife even though she had waived the right to “spousal support” in their divorce decree, the Virginia Court of Appeals recently decided.

In that case, as part of the property settlement the husband agreed to make a $40,000 lump-sum payment, to be satisfied in 16 equal monthly installments.

The divorce agreement contained a section entitled “alimony” in which both parties stated that they were waiving any right to receive alimony or “spousal support” payments in the future. The husband also agreed to pay for his wife’s health insurance for the next year and a half. The final decree created some confusion by stating that the amount of “periodic support” was expressed in fixed sums (presumably meaning the $40,000 lump sum) and set out a schedule for payment of “periodic spousal support” (presumably meaning the 16 installments).

After 10 months, the husband stopped making the payments, claiming that his ex-wife’s alleged adultery invalidated the property settlement. The wife asked the court to find the husband in contempt for failure to make the “periodic spousal support” payments.

The husband argued in response that the court could only use its contempt power to enforce payment of child or spousal support obligations and that the wife had waived her right to receive spousal support. He also argued that the payments he was supposed to make were the equivalent of a money judgment anyway, which he claimed was unenforceable via contempt.

The trial court disagreed and held the husband in contempt. The Court of Appeals affirmed, ruling that the husband couldn’t avoid the contempt citation by characterizing the payment obligation as a money judgment. The court concluded that whatever was in the property settlement agreement was enforceable in the same manner as any other provision that you’d see in a final divorce decree.