Do What I Write, Not What I Say

Most of the time judges rule how they say they will, but not always. Consider one recent case from the Greene County Domestic Relations Court.

The father took the mother back to court for interfering with the parties’ visitation schedule. The evidence at the hearing indicated that both parties, by agreement, had frequently deviated from the parenting time schedule to accommodate family visits and the like. At the end of the hearing, the judge chided the father, “And then for you to come back in here and ask me to find her in contempt for not following the letter of the court order is a little bit disingenuous.” The judge said he wouldn’t hold the mother in contempt.

The judge issued his formal, written decision four months later. Contrary to what he previously said in court, the judge held the mother in contempt for interfering with the father’s phone calls. He imposed a 10-day jail sentence, but held the sentence in abeyance so long as the mother would facilitate phone or Skype contact with the daughter. The judge also ordered the mother to pay $300 of the father’s attorney fees.

The mother appealed the contempt finding and the Greene County Court of Appeals reversed, but not for the reason you might think. The court of appeals reversed because there was nothing in the parties’ decree about phone communications, perhaps because the daughter was very young when the parties divorced. As there was no court order regarding phone communications, the mother could not be held in contempt in that regard. The court of appeals also reversed because the father sought contempt for failing to coordinate visitation, not phone contact.

Having found alternate grounds to reverse, the court of appeals chose not to “address the discrepancies between the [judge’s] statements from the bench and [his] judgment entry.” The case is Bucci v. Bucci, 2013-Ohio-1689 (2nd App. Dist.).

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