Attorney for Appellant
Bryan Lee Ciyou
Attorney for Appellee
INDIANA SUPREME COURT
TROY D. COHOON,
Appellant (Respondent below),
DAPHNE D. COHOON,
Appellee (Petitioner below ).
) Supreme Court No.
APPEAL FROM THE MARION SUPERIOR COURT
The Honorable Robyn Moberly, Judge
Cause No. 49D12-9901-DR-10
ON PETITION TO TRANSFER
March 7, 2003
Both the trial court and Court of Appeals majority found a binding arbitration
ision incorporated into the Cohoons divorce decree void as against public policy.
Cohoon v. Cohoon, No. 49D12-9901-DR-010 (Marion Super. Ct. July 20, 2001), affd, 770
N.E.2d 885, 894 (Ind. Ct. App. 2002). The dispositive issue in this
case is whether Mr. Cohoon was in contempt for failure to pay child
support, not whether the binding arbitration provision was void as against public policy.
We affirm the courts below on the dispositive issue in this case,
that Mr. Cohoon was in contempt for failure to pay child support.
This case involves a dispute between divorced parents arising from the following facts.
In approving the parents divorce, the trial court approved and incorporated into
the divorce decree a settlement agreement in which the parents agreed to submit
to and resolve by binding arbitration "[a]ny dispute between the parties as to
child support, custody, or visitation." (Appellants App. at 7, ¶ 7.)
Approximately one year later, on July 23, 2000, the mother filed a petition
for modification of the settlement agreement and a petition to hold the father
in contempt for an alleged nonpayment of child support. The father argued
that the petitions were not properly before the trial court because the parties
had agreed to resolve all child support disputes through binding arbitration. The
mother subsequently withdrew her petition for modification and the trial court then held
a hearing on the contempt petition on March 7, 2001.
The trial court reached three conclusions of relevance to us here. First,
it found that "whether a party is in contempt of the [divorce decree]
is not encompassed within the bin
ding arbitration provision of the [settlement agreement]" and
that it had jurisdiction over enforcement of the divorce decree. (Appellants App.
at 7, ¶ 8.) Second, it found the father to be in
contempt. Third, it held that "the provision in the parties' Agreement which
states that child support, custody, or visitation issues shall be resolved by binding
arbitration is void as against public policy in that the agreement attempts to
usurp the continuing jurisdiction of the Court over the issues concerning child support
modifications, contempt actions, custody, and visitation." (Appellants App. at 11, ¶ 13.)
The father appealed and the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court with
a lengthy discussion of its own as to why the binding arbitration provision
of the settlement agre
ement was void as against public policy as well as
a shorter discussion affirming the contempt citation. Cohoon v. Cohoon, 770 N.E.2d
885 (Ind. Ct. App. 2002). The father now seeks transfer.
We find it unnecessary in this case to make a definitive judgment on
the validity of binding arbitration provisions in domestic relations matters. Once the
mother withdrew her petition for modification, the only issue before the trial court
was the question of contempt. We agree with the trial court that
whether a party was in contempt of the divorce decree was not encompassed
within the binding arbitration provision of the settlement agreement. See Pettit v.
Pettit, 626 N.E.2d 444, 447 (Ind. 1993) (holding that contempt is always available
[to courts] to assist in the enforcement of child support). Upon making
that determination, the court was then free to rule upon the contempt petition
without further reference to the binding arbitration provision. We likewise agree with
its ruling on the merits of the contempt petition.
We grant transfer pursuant to Indiana Appellate Rule 58(A), thereby vacating the opinion
of the Court of Appeals except for Issue II. We affirm the
judgment of the trial court as to contempt (including its findings on the
presumption of fees and authority to compensate an aggrieved party for losses and
damages) but vacate its judgment that the binding arbitration provisions of the parties'
settlement agreement is void as against public policy.
SHEPARD, C.J., and DICKSON, BOEHM, and RUCKER, JJ., concur.