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Harshman v. Harshman

Supreme Court of Maine

April 4, 2019


          Argued: December 11, 2018


          SAUFLEY, C.J.

         [¶1] Edward J. Harshman appeals from post-judgment orders entered in the District Court (Rockland) finding him in contempt. Harshman, the beneficiary of a substantial trust, had been ordered to maintain $500, 000 in life insurance to benefit his ex-wife and their children, to whom he was required to pay significant spousal and child support. Not only did he fail to obtain the $500, 000 policy, he allowed a $300, 000 policy to lapse, claiming that when the court told him it was not enough, he was no longer required to maintain that policy; a claim that defies logic. We affirm the judgment of contempt. We remand to the District Court for enforcement of the contempt order, and for the sanction of imprisonment imposed therein to be served immediately.

         [¶2] The District Court entered two orders of contempt and repeatedly provided Harshman with more time to comply. Those orders, dated December 7, 2017 [Mathews, J.), and May 15, 2018 [Raimondi, /.), found him in contempt of the parties' divorce judgment after he failed to obtain a $500, 000 life insurance policy that would name his former wife, Sheila Harshman, as the owner and beneficiary, and acted in bad faith in allowing his existing $300, 000 term life insurance policy, which he owned but that listed Sheila as the beneficiary, to lapse. See M.R. Civ. P. 66(d). Edward challenges the court's findings of facts that he had the ability to comply with the divorce judgment and that his cancellation of his existing policy was in bad faith.

         [¶3] Edward and Sheila were married in 2000 and divorced in September 2016 through a judgment [Sparaco, J.) ordering, in pertinent part, as follows:

[Edward] shall furnish a life insurance policy naming [Sheila] as beneficiary, and owned by [Sheila], in an amount no less than $500, 000.
... [T]he Court finds it prudent to have [Sheila] be the owner of this life insurance policy, but require [Edward] to pay any and all premiums associated therewith and to cooperate to the extent necessary to obtain physicals or other requirements.[1]

         [¶4] Almost a year after Harshman was ordered to obtain the $500, 000 life insurance policy, in August 2017, Sheila filed a motion for contempt asserting that Edward had failed to obtain the policy. See M.R. Civ. P. 66(d)(2)(A). Edward did not assert a financial inability to pay for the ordered policy, but alleged that although he had obtained a life insurance policy of $300, 000, "considering his age and health" he was uninsurable for a policy above that amount. He provided no evidence that he made any actual efforts to obtain a policy or that any insurers declined any actual applications for policies. The court [Mathews, /.) held a contempt hearing and found that, although Edward had the ability to comply with the divorce judgment, he "refused to do so." The court also found that Edward's existing policy of $300, 000 was not compliant with the divorce judgment because it was $200, 000 less the amount required by the divorce judgment and it was not owned by Sheila. Accordingly, the court adjudged that Edward was in contempt of the divorce judgment. M.R. Civ. P. 66(d)(2)(D). The court imposed a sanction of a thirty-day term of imprisonment, but the court stayed the sanction indefinitely to allow Edward the opportunity to comply with the divorce judgment. See M.R. Civ. P. 66(d)(3)(A) (Remedial Sanctions; Coercive Imprisonment).

         [¶5] In March 2018, Sheila filed a motion for the court to hold a hearing where Edward would be required to show cause for not complying with the divorce judgment. She included an affidavit averring that he had "affirmatively cancelled] the existing (but insufficient) life insurance policy" of $300, 000. The court [Raimondi, J.) held the show cause hearing that Sheila had requested and found that Edward had inquired into only whether "he could get a whole life insurance policy and only for the full amount of $500, 000." (Emphasis added.) As it pertains to his $300, 000 term plan, Edward "never inquired whether ownership of the $300, 000 [term life] policy could be transferred to [Sheila]." Nor did he make "inquiries as to whether he could get an additional policy for $200, 000 or perhaps two $100, 000 policies so that he could comply with the order." Ultimately, the court found, "the deliberate end result of his actions was to leave [Sheila] with no insurance coverage at all."

         [¶6] Once again, however, the court stayed the imposition of the contempt sentence. The court allowed Edward thirty days to comply with the divorce judgment, potentially by reinstating the $300, 000 policy, with or without Sheila as the owner, and obtaining other, smaller policies that would provide a total of $500, 000 in coverage. The court also required Edward to investigate any other avenue to secure his spousal support obligation, "including family trust funds," "in the event that it proves difficult to obtain insurance." The court set the matter "for review on June 12, 2018, ... at which time [Edward] must have obtained insurance coverage as ordered or have persuasive proof of his good faith efforts to do so or the sentence of the court will be imposed at that time."

         [¶7] At the June review hearing, the court found that Edward had "failed to comply with [the May 15, 2018, ] order." The court imposed a sanction and ordered Edward to serve a term of thirty days in the Knox County Jail and denied Edward's motion to stay the imposition of the sanction. See M.R. Civ. P. 62(a), 121. Nonetheless, it is apparent that Edward has not served the sentence, [2] and he now appeals to us, arguing that the court erred in its factual finding of his ability to comply with the life insurance provision of the divorce judgment and that, because the court earlier found his term policy inadequate to satisfy the divorce judgment, the court erred in determining that he acted in bad faith in cancelling the policy. See M.R. App. P. 2B(c)(1).[3]

         [¶8] We review the court's factual findings that support a decision "regarding civil contempt for clear error." Lewin v. Skehan,2012 ME 31, ¶ 18, 39 A.3d 58. Absent clear error in the court's underlying factual findings of contempt, we review the court's judgment for an ...

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