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What not to do when appealing your divorce decree

A recent series of events makes clear the dangers of acting spitefully while in the midst of a divorce appeal. Namely, bad behavior can put one both in debt and in jail.

Following a divorce case that took nearly three years to resolve, a man was ordered to pay spousal support to his former wife as well as roughly $100,000 in attorney fees. He appealed the decision - a fairly normal course of action.

His conduct since then, however - rife with deception, pettiness, and stubbornness - has earned the man the contempt of the courts and a series of weekends behind bars.

When appeals work

The reason courts are involved in divorce matters is to ensure they proceed with at least a modicum of equality. The legal system is there to ensure that decisions regarding spousal support, child support, child custody, asset division and related matters are made fairly. In some cases, a judge may make a mistake and favor one spouse over the other. In such circumstances, an appeal can be an effective means of making the divorce decree more equitable.

When appeals land you in jail

It is important, however, that spouses follow the original decree throughout the appeals process. That is not what happened in the above-mentioned case. The man, first off, dissolved his business and went on unemployment. He then refused to pay spousal support as well as the mortgage on the marital home. He also sold his Hummer and didn't disclose the proceeds he'd gained from the sale.

Meantime, he claimed he was unable to find suitable employment. The courts deemed this "not credible," given the degree in mechanical engineering he'd earned at Michigan Tech and the MBA he'd earned at Harvard. As punishment for failing to comply with the divorce decree, the circuit court sentenced him to ten days in jail - a decision the appellate court upheld.

It likely did not help matters that he arrived to the court proceedings in a new Chevy Volt. "The kicker was probably rolling up in a new car," commented a law school professor. "In all my years of doing family law, I've never seen this kind of thing happen. On any given day, you're not going to see a judge sending people to jail in a divorce case."

Only in egregious cases. This, evidently, was one of them.

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