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Hunt County Woman Jailed for Contempt for Failing to Pay Divorce Settlement

Posted on in Divorce

divorce settlement, debt, jail, Austin divorce lawyer, Austin divorce attorneyOn April 25, 2013, Cherilyn Kinney, of Hunt County Texas was granted a divorce from her husband Robert Kinney. The final decree was May 22, 2013. As part of the divorce settlement, Cherilyn was to pay Robert $40,000. This amount was referred to as a debt in the settlement paperwork. The divorce judge gave her six months to pay the funds to Robert. The final due date was on November 22, 2013.

On November 23, 2013, because Cherilyn had failed to make the payment, Robert filed a contempt of court charge against her. A hearing was held on February 7, 2014, and the judge found Cherilyn in contempt. He ordered her held at the Hunt County jail until the entire $40,000 payment was made.

Her attorneys immediately filed a writ of habeas corpus with the Appeals Court in Dallas. Habeas corpus means a person is required to be brought before a judge or court who can decide if the person is being detained or held unlawfully or without just cause.

 The Appeals Court threw out the lower court's contempt order. In making its ruling, the court cited three Texas laws:

  • The first cited, was Article I, section 18 of the Texas Constitution which states, "No person shall ever be imprisoned for debt."
  • The second cites was Texas Family Code section 9.012(a), which states that contempt orders can only be enforced when there is failure to deliver property or awarding of a right to property.
  • The last cited was Texas Family Code section 9.012(b), which states that a contempt cannot be ordered for failure to pay a large sum of money (in a divorce settlement) unless those funds already existed at the time of the decree.

In its ruling, the court declared that, "In the context of a divorce case, a payment of money to be made in the future is not debt if it represents the former spouse's share of specific funds, including matured rights to future payments, that are community property and in existence at the time the divorce decree was rendered."

If you are in the middle of a divorce, make sure you contact an experienced Austin family law attorney to negotiate the best divorce settlement possible.
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