Lynch v. Lynch, 55

CourtCourt of Appeals of Maryland
Writing for the CourtArgued before MURPHY; BELL
Citation677 A.2d 584,342 Md. 509
PartiesRobert D. LYNCH, v. Susan M. LYNCH. ,
Docket NumberNo. 55,55
Decision Date01 September 1995

Page 509

342 Md. 509
677 A.2d 584
Robert D. LYNCH,
Susan M. LYNCH.
No. 55, Sept. Term, 1995.
Court of Appeals of Maryland.
June 10, 1996.

[677 A.2d 586]

Page 512

Evelyn O. Cannon, Assistant Attorney General (J. Joseph Curran, Jr., Attorney General; Angela M. Eaves, Assistant Attorney General, on brief), Baltimore, for Petitioner.

Page 513

Geraldine Kenney Sweeney, Assistant Public Defender (Stephen E. Harris, Public Defender, on brief), Baltimore, for Respondent.


BELL, Judge.

This case presents for our resolution the issue of the sufficiency of the evidence that Susan M. Lynch, the respondent, was unable to pay the court-ordered child support to comply with the purge provision set by the Circuit Court for Montgomery County 1 and [677 A.2d 587] the propriety of the trial court

Page 514

holding the respondent in contempt of court. The Court of Special Appeals held, as to the former, that the evidence was insufficient to prove the respondent's ability to comply, but as to the latter, that the court did not abuse its discretion. Lynch v. Lynch, 103 Md.App. 71, 80-82, 652 A.2d 1132, 1136-38 (1995). Accordingly, it affirmed the contempt finding, and reversed the sanction imposed, i.e., the incarceration of the respondent until she complied with the purge provision the court had set. We granted cross-petitions for certiorari. We shall affirm in part and reverse in part.


The respondent and Robert D. Lynch, the petitioner, divorced in 1987. At that time, the respondent was awarded custody of the parties' two minor children. Subsequently, however, the circuit court modified the decree, terminating the respondent's custody of the children and transferring it to the petitioner. The court also ordered the respondent, who was then working as a receptionist for the United States Government, National Institutes of Health (NIH), earning $460 per week, 2 to pay $150 per month child support, initially through an earnings withholding order, payable through the court's

Page 515

Child Support Enforcement Division. 3 The respondent immediately fell behind in the support payments. As a result, the support enforcement division initiated contempt proceedings, pursuant to which the court issued an order requiring the respondent to show cause why she should not be held in contempt. Over the course of the next two and one-half years, the show cause hearing was continued eight times, at the respondent's request, and on one occasion, she failed to appear. When a hearing finally was held the respondent had made only one support payment and was, therefore, $5,680 in arrears.

The only testimony presented at the hearing was by the respondent. She admitted that she was working when she was ordered to make child support payments and that she continued in that employment for almost a year thereafter. She quit her job, she explained, to care for her mother, who "got very sick and because of personal problems at home, etc." She continued to care for her mother until she died. Although testifying to having pursued some job opportunities, the respondent acknowledged that she had remained largely unemployed since August of 1991. She noted that she had a few miscellaneous jobs like yard work or flower delivery. The only applications for jobs to which she testified were to discount retail stores. The respondent maintained that she had no assets, and that she did not receive public assistance, social security, workers' compensation, or any other such benefits. Moreover, she testified that she did not own a car, had no bank accounts or valuables of any kind and, except for the $20 that she had in her possession, she had no money. With respect to her living arrangements, the respondent advised the court that she lived rent free in the home of her deceased mother and received free food from a charitable organization called Mana. She also testified that she did not have title to her mother's home, rather, it had been bequeathed

Page 516

to her children and "the parental guardian," i.e., the petitioner. Although she said she intended to contest the will, she recognized that, unless she was successful, she would not have title to the house.

The petitioner did not cross-examine the respondent, nor did he offer evidence in contradiction[677 A.2d 588] of the respondent's testimony. Instead, he argued that the respondent presented a "classic involuntary impoverishment case," observing:

She doesn't work, she obviously doesn't have to work. She can meet her needs by some other way. I can't get to any of her assets because she doesn't legally own anything. In terms of this piece of property, it would be nice if we had a judgment, we could go after the property, but she doesn't own the property and she won't do anything to get the estate moving along.

The trial court held the respondent in contempt and entered a judgment against her for $5,680. 4 It sentenced her to 20 days in the detention center, but ordered that she could purge herself of the contempt by paying $500. While recognizing that the respondent did not have $500 in cash or assets from which that amount could be acquired, the court nevertheless determined that she had the ability to purge herself of the contempt. The basis of that determination was its finding that she led a "discretionary lifestyle ... and in the process of it you don't pay support that you have the ability to pay." The court admonished the respondent about the importance of her obligation to make "support payments" and that she must "face" and "deal with" the fact that she has to "go out and make some money" to care for her children. The court also commented that the respondent at one time held "a job paying you $24,000 a year, that was a darn good job and you just left it."

Page 517

The respondent moved for reconsideration. At that time, the trial court explained what it had meant by "discretionary lifestyle":

many defendants in criminal cases are indigent and qualified for and are in fact represented by the Public Defender's Office, but those are--not all, but many of them are people who live in a place or a home where somebody else pays their bills, and they actually physically show up in court--they either take a bus or they might borrow somebody's car, some of them smoke, they can get cigarettes, they don't live a luxurious lifestyle, but they are able to live, they stay alive, they have some discretion, they have--nobody else has any obligation to support them, but other people do. So, it allows people, some people, an option in their lives that other people don't have, and they put this term "Discretionary lifestyle" on it. So that is where I got it from. It is not something that I thought up. I apply it to many people come in as URESA cases.

This is a woman who, as I remember, at one time [was paid] 30 or $40 thousand dollars,[ 5] working for the United States government, and for one reason or another she decided it wasn't good--I think maybe she wanted to stop the job to come home and take care of her mother, when her mother was sick, and she did, and she lives in her mother's home, who is now deceased, apparently there are some other matters going on. She lives rent-free. Regardless of whether she is going to have ownership in this property, she lives rent-free. She gave me a couple of letters from a couple of places that have supplied her food. I am not sure if one was a church, but those, as I recall, and I could be wrong, because I don't have them here, but they were 1991 and 1992; not recent. I think she told me--you said you made the tape--maybe other people help her and allow her to eat and provide food for her so she can stay alive, and I applied that principle. It is a discretionary

Page 518

lifestyle. It is a lifestyle that she has that isn't luxurious, she is not living the life of Riley, but she is alive, she makes no money. If she lived in a place where she had no friends, she had no family, she had no support, she would either have to go to work and make money to live or she would die, and that is what I imposed on her and that is why I said that I found as a fact [677 A.2d 589] that she had the present ability to purge herself. Not because she had $500 in her pocket.

These other people who help her have no obligation to pay her child support; nobody else does except her, but because of this, quote "Discretionary lifestyle," she had the present ability to get the money to pay it. That is what I found as a matter of fact and I am going to stick to it. Until somebody says that discretionary lifestyle that we have talked about doesn't apply to this situation, I am going to stick to it.

The court was emphatic that it had not found that the respondent had voluntarily impoverished herself. It also made clear what it meant when it indicated that she had the ability to purge herself of the contempt:

... I don't think she did have $500 in her pocket, I don't think she did, but I think because of the lifestyle that she leads, has it available to her to purge herself. I found that as a fact.


In this State, the basic criteria applicable to civil contempt proceedings, as well as the purpose of such proceedings, are well settled. As to the former, where "(1) the complainant is ... a private person as opposed to the State; (2) the contempt proceeding is entitled in the original action and filed as a continuation thereof as opposed to a separate and independent action; (3) holding the defendant in contempt affords relief to a private party (4) the relief requested is primarily for the benefit of the complainant; [and] (5) the acts complained of do not of themselves constitute crimes or conduct by the defendants so wilful or contumelious that the court is impelled to

Page 519

act on its own motion," the proceeding ordinarily is one for civil contempt. Winter v. Crowley, 245 Md. 313, 317, 226 A.2d...

To continue reading

Request your trial
36 cases
  • Hoile v. State, 87, September Term, 2007.
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • 7 Mayo 2008
    ...voucher rule); Wilson v. Holliday, 364 Md. 589, 598-601, 774 A.2d 1123, 1128-30 (2001) (describing why, following Lynch v. Lynch, 342 Md. 509, 677 A.2d 584 (1996), the Court of Appeals enacted Maryland Rule 15-207(e) governing spousal and child support enforcement through contempt proceedin......
  • Ashford v. State, 72
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Maryland
    • 19 Abril 2000
    ...Whether direct or constructive, only that conduct that is willful or intentional may constitute a criminal contempt. See Lynch v. Lynch, 342 Md. 509, 522, 677 A.2d 584, 590 The primary purpose of punishment for criminal contempt, whether direct or constructive, is vindication of public auth......
  • State v. Crawford, 1605, 1606, 1607, 1608, 1609, 1610, 1611, 1612, 1613, 1798, 1799, Sept. Term, 2017
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • 31 Octubre 2018
    ...herself of guilt and thus clear himself of the charge.’ " Jones v. State , 351 Md. 264, 281, 718 A.2d 222 (1998) (quoting Lynch v. Lynch , 342 Md. 509, 520, 677 A.2d 584 (1996) ). Criminal contempt proceedings, in contrast, are intended to " ‘punish for past misconduct, which may no longer ......
  • Howard County v. PACK SHACK INC, 1635
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • 4 Junio 2001
    ...establish that the person sought to be held in contempt violated an order prescribing or prohibiting a course of conduct. Lynch v. Lynch, 342 Md. 509, 520, 677 A.2d 584 (1996), superceded by statute as stated in Schwartz v. Wagner, 116 Md.App. 720, 698 A.2d 1222 The conduct which precipitat......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT