Supreme Court of Wisconsin upholds contempt for failure to provide info.

AuthorHerman, Gregg

Byline: Gregg Herman

May a circuit court use its remedial contempt powers to craft a remedy, where a party fails to provide tax returns and income information in a timely manner as required under statute, a divorce judgment, and a court order, but then the party produces the information just before the contempt hearing? On July 17, 2007, the Supreme Court of Wisconsin answered this question in the affirmative in Frisch v. Henrichs, 2007 WI 102. The justices reversed the published decision of the District II Court of Appeals concerning the remedial contempt powers of the circuit courts. This is the first of two articles that will first discuss the holding, then the implications on family law cases. Background The Waukesha County Circuit Court, Judge Ralph Ramirez, found Ronald J. Henrichs in contempt for failing to produce tax information on an annual basis to his former wife, Heidi Frisch, and for failing to timely report substantial changes in his income. In addition to the statutory requirement of annually providing financial information to a support recipient, Ronald was in violation of a November 1995 court order and a stipulation entered into between the parties. Ramirez also held that the stipulation between the parties, which set a ceiling on the amount of Ronald's child support obligations for four years, was not in the best interests of the parties' children and was contrary to public policy. The court then ordered Ronald to pay Heidi $100,000 as compensation for Ronald's contemptuous conduct and $32,000 of Heidi's attorney fees on grounds that he had engaged in overtrial. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the circuit court improperly employed remedial contempt because Ronald's contempt was no longer continuing at the time of the contempt hearing. The appellate court held that Ronald had provided Heidi with all the tax information before the contempt hearing; therefore, the contempt was no longer continuing and the circuit court was not authorized under Wis. Stat. Ch. 785 to employ remedial contempt. The Court of Appeals additionally held that the stipulation between Ronald and Heidi was not contrary to public policy. The court reversed the circuit court's order that Ronald pay $100,000 to Heidi and also reversed the $32,000 overtrial award. High Court Probes 'Continuing Contempt' The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals, holding that the circuit court properly employed remedial contempt in this case. The majority...

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