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Rockett v. Rockett

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Second Circuit

June 21, 2017

TERRY ROCKETT Plaintiff-Appellee
v.
JESSIE ROCKETT Defendant-Appellant

         Appealed from the Fifth Judicial District Court for the Parish of Richland, Louisiana Lower Court Case No. 44, 696-C Honorable Ann B. McIntyre, Judge

          LOOMIS & DEMENT By: Albert E. Loomis, III Counsel for Appellant.

          S. DOUGLAS BUSARI & ASSOCIATES, LLC By: S. Douglas Busari Counsel for Appellee.

          Before BROWN, WILLIAMS, and GARRETT, JJ.

          GARRETT, J.

         Jessie Rockett appeals from trial court judgments which (1) awarded his wife, Terry Rockett, interim spousal support, and (2) held him in contempt for being $62, 231 in arrears on his interim spousal support payments. We affirm both judgments.

         FACTS

         The parties married in 1976. Five children were born of the marriage. After the youngest child reached the age of majority, Jessie left his wife a handwritten letter on August 11, 2015. In it, he informed her that he was leaving her because he no longer loved her and they had raised their children. Jessie, who was an oilfield drilling consultant making in excess of $400, 000 a year, then laid out in detail certain financial matters in his letter. He said he was going to remove his wife's name from their joint checking account, so he could keep up the truck and car payments.[1] He would keep insurance on his truck and their youngest daughter's car, as well as keeping hospital insurance on Terry and the daughter. He wanted his motorcycles and guns. He said Terry would get the family home and her car, both of which were paid for, but that she would have to pay her own insurance. He would keep "all the IRA account" because he was giving his wife his monthly retirement check from a former employer. He calculated Terry would get a total of about $7, 600 per month, but the amount might be adjusted if the oilfield shut down.

         Terry filed for divorce on August 31, 2015, alleging that Jessie had committed adultery with a woman she named in her petition. Terry requested both interim and permanent spousal support. She also sought exclusive use of the family home in Delhi. She submitted an affidavit listing monthly expenses of $8, 861. Additionally, she asked for a temporary restraining order ("TRO") to prevent Jessie from encumbering or disposing of community property, which was granted.

         In his answer, Jessie alleged that he and Terry separated on August 11, 2015, due to her chronic gambling habit, which had "virtually pauperized" them and her failure to pay family bills with money he provided. He had no objection to her exclusive use of the family home, so long as reasonable rental was charged for her occupation of his half. He reconvened seeking injunctive relief to prevent Terry from alienating or encumbering community assets. A TRO so ordering was granted.

         A hearing officer conference ("HOC") was held on November 19, 2015. Among the undisputed facts were Jessie's employment with RWDY, Inc.; his monthly gross income of $26, 166; his retirement income of $1, 867 per month from former employer Rowan Drilling Company; and his necessary living expenses of $5, 744. Terry, who was living in the former marital home, was not employed and had not worked outside the home for many years. Although she listed monthly expenses of more than $8, 000, this included $1, 500 for food, as well as $1, 250 for health insurance which she did not currently have to pay. As a result, it was concluded that her actual necessary expenses were no more than $6, 000 per month. Jessie claimed that he was unable to pay interim spousal support due to issues with the Internal Revenue Service ("IRS"), which he blamed on Terry's preparation of their tax returns.

         The HOC report recommended that Terry be awarded exclusive use of the marital home, with the issue of rental payments being deferred until trial; that each party receive exclusive use of their respective vehicles and the community movables in their possession; and that each be enjoined from alienating or encumbering community property. On the issue of interim spousal support, the hearing officer recommended that the husband pay $6, 000 per month. Additionally, he was to continue to provide her health insurance coverage until a judgment of divorce was entered and to pay her $1, 250 thereafter to obtain the same. On November 20, 2015, the trial court made the HOC recommendation its interim order.

         Both sides objected to the HOC recommendations. Terry contended that the husband's monthly income was $28, 033, and that she should have been awarded $8, 861. Jessie asserted that he feared a tax debt of at least $250, 000, which he blamed on his wife and her alleged gambling addiction, and that he had sought advice from a certified public accountant ("CPA") to avoid criminal prosecution for tax evasion. He stated that he was "taking steps to turn over all income and assets to the Federal Government to ensure that he is not criminally prosecuted." He maintained that the hearing officer failed to adequately reduce several of the wife's claimed expenses, which were grossly inflated. Jessie contended that, if all the expenses were reduced to their proper amounts, the wife's monthly expenses would be only $3, 970.

         On May 11, 2016, Terry filed a motion for contempt, alleging that Jessie was in arrears in the amount of $51, 100 for interim spousal support and $7, 500 for comparable health insurance coverage. A hearing was set for May 20, 2016. On May 18, 2016, Jessie filed an exception of lack of service and/or untimely service of the contempt motion, as well as a motion and rule for reduction of spousal support.

         On May 20, 2016, a hearing was held on the interim spousal support issues.[2] Testimony was given by the parties; one of their sons; the wife's sister and niece; and Lawrence W. Pickett, the husband's CPA. The evidence revealed that Jessie had removed Terry's access to most of the money that had been in their joint account and that he had made only small, sporadic payments to his wife since the separation. The testimony of the wife and relatives established the wife's poor health (diabetes, hypertension, anxiety, and depression), which required daily medication, and her impecunious circumstances. She also had experienced serious issues with her knee that required surgeries and caused her to be in a wheelchair for four years. At the time of trial, she still used a cane and was unable to stand without assistance. She required help to clean the house and Jessie had paid Terry's sister to do their housekeeping. Due to a lack of funds, Terry was unable to pay for such things as her medications, groceries, lawn maintenance, or the gas bill. After the gas was turned off, she had no hot water for washing dishes or bathing and had to go to her son's house to shower. Also, she no longer had a bank account.

         Both sides submitted affidavits of expenses. Terry's affidavit showed expenses of $8, 861.00, while Jessie's were $5, 744.30. As to the amounts on her affidavit of expenses, some of which were excessive, Terry stated that she listed the sums she was accustomed to spending and did not understand that she was supposed to figure out solely her own expenses. She explained that she never had to budget during the last years of the marriage because their income was so high. She also testified that the family home in which she was residing was in poor condition. She had applied for food stamps and disability, but her requests were denied based on Jessie's level of income. Jessie testified that he and his girlfriend were living together in a house that cost $1, 300 per month in rent and that he had paid a year's rent in advance. The girlfriend was not employed.

         Jessie testified that in 2015 he made $410, 000, or about $30, 000 per month. However, he claimed that he was terminated on January 25, 2016, due to a workforce reduction and that he had been unsuccessful in securing any job in any field since then.[3] Jessie also testified that his wife was in charge of doing their taxes and that he believed that she had been taking them to Pickett. Pickett testified that Jessie had consulted him about the couple's tax situation. According to his estimates, they owed a total of between $350, 000 and $400, 000 in tax liability for 2011 to 2015. Pursuant to Pickett's advice, in late 2015 and early 2016, Jessie made large payments totaling $60, 000 toward the 2015 tax debt. Terry testified that she had always prepared and signed their tax returns. She acknowledged that in 2010, when Jessie asked her to take the taxes to Pickett, she lied that she had done so, but she continued to do them herself, utilizing a tax preparation software on her computer. When she learned in 2014 that she had underpaid the 2011 taxes, she arranged to make installment payments and was still in the process of catching up the payments when her husband left her. Terry introduced into evidence a document dated March 7, 2016, which she had recently received from the IRS indicating the parties were entitled to a refund of more than $2, 100 from a prior tax year.

         Jessie claimed his wife went to the boats and gambled a lot. However, he admitted that they went to the casinos together. Furthermore, he was confronted with documentation showing sums of money he had won gambling. Terry and her sister testified that they went to the casino together infrequently while Jessie was away. Both spouses stated that they had not been gambling since the separation.

         At the conclusion of the hearing, the trial court requested that the proceedings be transcribed to facilitate its review of ...


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