from the District Court of Ward County, North Central
Judicial District, the Honorable Todd L. Cresap, Judge.
M. Boughey, for plaintiff and appellee.
M. Cailao, for defendant and appellant.
1] Robert Peterson appeals from a district court order
finding him in contempt of court for failing to pay spousal
support. Robert Peterson argues the district court erred
finding him in contempt, not modifying the spousal support
obligation and awarding attorneys fees. The district court
order is affirmed.
2] Robert and Vineca Peterson divorced in 1996. The district
court ordered Robert Peterson to pay spousal support of $1,
500 per month until Vineca Peterson either died or remarried.
In January 2015 Vineca Peterson petitioned the district court
to find Robert Peterson in contempt for failing to pay
spousal support since September 2014. Robert Peterson filed a
cross-motion seeking reduction or termination of his spousal
support obligation. The district court found Robert Peterson
in contempt for failing to pay spousal support, denied his
request to modify or eliminate the support obligation and
ordered him to reimburse Vineca Peterson's attorneys
fees. Robert Peterson appeals.
3] Robert Peterson argues the district court erred finding
him in contempt for failing to pay spousal support.
"'In a civil contempt proceeding, a complainant must
clearly and satisfactorily show that the alleged contempt has
been committed. Civil contempt requires a willful and
inexcusable intent to violate a court order. When reviewing a
contempt sentence, the ultimate determination of whether or
not a contempt has been committed is within the trial
court's sound discretion. A trial court's finding of
contempt will not be overturned unless there is a clear abuse
of discretion. An abuse of discretion occurs when the trial
court acts in an arbitrary, unreasonable, or unconscionable
manner or when it misinterprets or misapplies the
Montgomery v. Montgomery, 2003 ND 135, ¶ 18,
667 N.W.2d 611 (quoting BeauLac v. BeauLac, 2002 ND
126, ¶ 10, 649 N.W.2d 210).
4] The applicable standards for seeking sanctions for
"A party seeking a contempt sanction under N.D.C.C. ch.
27-10 must clearly and satisfactorily prove the alleged
contempt was committed. Under N.D.C.C §
27-10-01.1(1)(c), contempt of court includes intentional
disobedience, resistance, or obstruction of the authority,
process, or order of a court or other officer. To warrant a
remedial sanction for contempt, there must be a willful and
inexcusable intent to violate a court order. A court abuses
its discretion when it acts in an arbitrary, unreasonable, or
unconscionable manner or when it misinterprets or misapplies
the law." Sall v. Sall, 2011 ND 202, ¶ 7,
804 N.W.2d 378 (internal citations and quotation marks
5] We note that even if a party is unable to comply with the
support order, it is not appropriate to simply ignore the
order until, as here, the person to whom the support is
ordered to be paid brings an action for contempt for failure
to pay the court-ordered support. "Where a court has
issued an order, even if erroneous, the party to whom the
order was issued must obey it as long as it remains in force
or until it is reversed, modified or set aside on appeal, and
the failure to obey such an order is punishable as contempt
of court." Flattum-Riemers v. Flattum-Riemers,
1999 ND 146, ¶ 11, 598 N.W.2d 499. If Robert Peterson
believed he could no longer pay the court-ordered support,
the appropriate procedure would have been to immediately move
the court to abolish or reduce the court-ordered support
based on change of circumstances, not, as Robert did, to
unilaterally cease making the required payments.
6] "An inability to comply with an order is a defense to
contempt proceedings, but the alleged contemnor has the
burden to prove the defense." Prchal v. Prchal,
2011 ND 62, ¶ 5, 795 N.W.2d 693. The trial court has
"broad discretion in deciding whether to hold a person
in contempt...." Woodward v. Woodward, 2009 ND
214, ¶ 6, 776 N.W.2d 567. "Our review of a trial
court's contempt decision is therefore limited to whether