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FAILURE TO PAY A PROPERTY SETTLEMENT DOES NOT RELIEVE CHILD SUPPORT OBLIGATION

In the case of Cantrell v. Cantrell, No. M2012-01847-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. May 23, 2013),we learn that one party's failure to timely pay a property settlement does not relieve the other party's child support obligation.

Facts: The parties divorced in 2008. In 2012, Wife filed a Petition for Contempt based upon Husband's failure to comply with the terms of the divorce. Husband also had a pending Petition to Set Child Support, and the two issues were heard on the same day. The trial court ordered the following: Husband would pay to Wife $20,000 in sixty (60) days; Wife would retrieve all property within sixty (60) days and child support would be paid by Wife of $281 per month from 2008-2011. Wife appealed, arguing that she should not have been ordered to pay child support and that the trial court should have imposed further punishment on the Husband for his failure to pay.

Analysis: Wife's appeal regarding the child support rests on her assertion that she should not have had to pay support based upon fairness and the history of the case. Wife did not argue that the amount was wrongly calculated or inappropriate numbers were used in the calculation itself. Wife argued that she should not pay support because Husband failed to pay the $20,000 property settlement to her in a timely manner. The Appeals Court here finds Wife's argument lacking. The Court held that is was proper for the trial court to hear the contempt and the child support petition simultaneously, and that Husband's failure to pay the property settlement should not affect Wife's duty of support.

Regarding the issue of Husband's contempt, Wife argues additional punishment should have been handed down by the trial court in addition to requiring Husband to pay the outstanding amount in sixty (60) days. However, Wife's Petition only requested civil contempt, not criminal contempt. Civil contempt is intended to bring a party into compliance with a court order; criminal contempt is intended to punish a party for wrongdoing. Because Wife asked for civil contempt and received an order directing Husband to comply, no other action would have been proper. Therefore the trial court is affirmed.

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