BARRY R. ARTZ, APPELLANT
SHANNON C. ARTZ NORRIS, APPELLEE
COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: LOWNDES COUNTY CHANCERY COURT. DATE OF JUDGMENT: 01/31/2014. TRIAL JUDGE: HON. DOROTHY WINSTON COLOM. TRIAL COURT DISPOSITION: DENIED APPELLEE'S REQUEST FOR MODIFICATION OF CHILD SUPPORT, FOUND APPELLANT IN CONTEMPT FOR FAILURE TO PAY CHILD SUPPORT AND CHILD'S MEDICAL-INSURANCE PREMIUMS, ORDERED APPELLANT TO PAY APPELLEE $5,236 FOR UNPAID CHILD SUPPORT AND $8,832 FOR UNPAID MEDICAL-INSURANCE PREMIUMS, AND AWARDED APPELLANT $11,007.19 IN ATTORNEY'S FEES.
FOR APPELLANT: BLEWETT W. THOMAS.
FOR APPELLEE: J. DOUGLAS FORD.
BEFORE LEE, C.J., ROBERTS AND JAMES, JJ. IRVING AND GRIFFIS, P.JJ., ISHEE, ROBERTS, CARLTON, MAXWELL AND FAIR, JJ., CONCUR. JAMES, J., CONCURS IN PART WITHOUT SEPARATE WRITTEN OPINION. BARNES, J., NOT PARTICIPATING.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
¶1. Barry R. Artz and Shannon C. Artz Norris obtained a divorce in Lowndes County, Mississippi, in 2002. Barry was initially granted custody of the couple's minor son, Caleb, who was born in 1994. Shannon had moved to Ohio during the course of the proceedings, and several years after the divorce became final, she filed a petition to modify custody. In 2006, the trial court granted her request, awarded Barry reasonable visitation, and ordered him to pay $181 per month in child support.
¶2. On January 16, 2007, Shannon filed a complaint for contempt and petition to modify. The parties entered into an agreed order on September 4, 2007, in which Barry agreed to pay Shannon $4,000 in back child support and reimburse her for Caleb's health-insurance premiums and one-half of Caleb's outstanding medical bills. The agreed order also provided for an increase in Barry's child-support obligation to $308 per month. Barry was given the choice to pay Shannon $192 per month for the cost of Caleb's health insurance or provide Caleb with health insurance that was substantially similar to the insurance Shannon had already obtained for Caleb, and that would be accepted by the doctors and hospitals where Caleb lived in Ohio.
¶3. The agreed order also provided for the manner in which visitation was to be exercised, and who was to pay for Caleb's airfare. Barry was to give Shannon thirty days' notice of when he would like to exercise visitation, and Shannon was to purchase
a round-trip ticket. Barry was then required to reimburse Shannon for one-half of the airfare. If Barry wanted to fly Caleb to a destination other than Birmingham, Alabama, Barry agreed to book the flight, but the airfare had to be reasonable and comparable to a round-trip ticket from Louisville, Kentucky, to Birmingham, Alabama.
¶4. The agreed order also contained the following clause: " [I]n the event [Barry] fails to abide by the terms of this Order or the remaining unmodified terms of the original decree, he shall be responsible for and pay to [Shannon] all attorney's fees and costs incurred by [Shannon] since August 15, 2006."
¶5. Shannon filed a contempt action on November 14, 2012, alleging that Barry had failed to pay child support since May 2012 and that he had failed to pay Caleb's monthly medicalinsurance premiums. She also sought enforcement of the order, including payment of attorney's fees for having to bring this action, and an increase in child support. Barry filed his answer and counterclaim, denying that he had violated the agreed order and seeking credit or reimbursement for Caleb's travel expenses.
¶6. Regarding his failure to pay child support, Barry testified at trial that while he had not paid child support directly to Shannon since May 2012, he had opened up a bank account in or about August 2012 for Caleb's benefit. Barry testified that he made monthly deposits into this bank account, amounts that exceeded what he was required to pay in child support, and that at the time of trial, he had deposited between $7,000 and $8,000 total. Barry testified that the account was set up in his name only, but Caleb had a signature card, which he used to make purchases. At the time of trial, Barry only had bank statements dating back to December 2012.
¶7. Regarding his failure to pay Caleb's monthly medical-insurance premiums, Barry testified that he obtained insurance for Caleb effective December 2007, and maintained that health insurance until August 2009. Shannon testified that she tried using the insurance Barry obtained for Caleb, but his claims were denied. She testified that when she called to verify Caleb's insurance coverage, she could not. In July 2009, Shannon emailed Barry and informed him that she still had coverage for Caleb and that a month's supply of Amnesteem, an acne medication, would only cost $10 as opposed to $488 under the insurance that Barry had obtained. When it came time for Caleb to undergo Amnesteem treatment, the parties discussed flying Caleb to Mississippi every two ...