Equitable Distribution


Trial court properly found husband in civil contempt of its order requiring him to make payments to wife under the parties’ equitable distribution agreements and properly imposed sanctions in the form of counsel fees in favor of wife because wife showed husband has notice of the order, he had the ability to pay and he chose not to do so and husband’s arguments about wife’s allegedly false testimony at an earlier hearing were not before the court since he had squandered his opportunity for appellate review of those claims by failing to file an appellate brief. Affirmed.

The parties’ divorce incorporated their PSA which contained equitable distribution provisions. Wife filed an emergency petition for contempt of court to enforce the property settlement, alleging husband failed to transfer the amounts due to her. Husband answered and counterclaimed contending that he had made all required payments. The trial court issued an order requiring payments within 30 days and husband appealed. The superior court dismissed the appeal. Meanwhile wife filed an emergency petition for contempt alleging husband had failed to make the ordered payments within 30 days. Husband answered and counterclaimed and trial court found husband in contempt because he had failed to make any of the payments required by the prior order, ordered payment and awarded counsel fees to wife. Husband made the ordered payment, filed for reconsideration which was denied and appealed.

Husband argued wife had unclean hands and should have been estopped from seeking equitable relief and trial court erred in assessing attorney fees as a contempt sanction against him. Husband asserted wife falsely testified at an earlier hearing, she knowingly provided an incorrect value for the parties’ joint TD stock account and she received a windfall as a result of her inaccurate testimony. Husband further argued that his counsel’s unauthorized stipulation of wife’s incorrect valuation duped the court and did not absolve wife of “unclean hands.”

The court found the record supported the trial court’s decision to hold husband in contempt. Husband’s arguments regarding wife’s testimony at the earlier hearing and the allegedly unauthorized stipulation at that hearing were not properly before the court. Husband appealed the earlier order but did not pursue the appeal with diligence and the court dismissed the appeal for his failure to file an appellate brief. Husband squandered his right to obtain appellate review of those claims and the court rejected his efforts to resurrect his lost claims as “defenses” to wife’s contempt petition.

Husband’s challenge to the amount of counsel fees awarded to wife as a sanction for husband’s contempt failed. The trial court reviewed wife’s certification of counsel fees and awarded wife’s counsel approximately 90 percent of the fees associated with prosecuting her contempt petition, which reasonably reflected counsel’s tasks and hourly billing rate.

Additionally, husband’s computer data claim did not serve as a valid defense to wife’s contempt petition because he did not preserve the claim about the content of the stipulation for appellate review, wife did comply with the stipulation and to the extent husband was complaining about computer company’s inability to provide the stipulated service, husband was the party who insisted on using that company.


Digests of Recent Opinions, Pennsylvania Law Weekly, 41 PLW 788 (Tuesday, August 21, 2018) Thomas v. Thomas, PICS Case No. 18-0987 (Pa. Super. Aug. 7, 2018)

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