Rethorst v. Rethorst, 122

CourtCourt of Appeals of Maryland
Citation214 Md. 1,133 A.2d 101
Docket NumberNo. 122,122
PartiesScott C. RETHORST v. Jean J. RETHORST.
Decision Date12 June 1957

Arthur J. Hilland, Rockville, for appellant.

Charles W. Prettyman, Rockville, for appellee.


BRUNE, Chief Judge.

This is an appeal by Scott C. Rethorst, appellant, from (1) a final decree of the Circuit Court for Montgomery County which awarded to the appellee, Jean J. Rethorst, custody of the minor children of the parties, and required the appellant to pay an additional counsel fee to counsel for the appellee and to pay the court costs; and (2) from certain orders entered pendente lite with regard to the custody of the children, alimony and counsel fees, and holding the appellant guilty of contempt for an alleged violation of orders for the payment of alimony and counsel fees. He also seeks (3) the reversal of an order entered after this appeal directing appellant to pay to appellee an additional counsel fee and suit money on this appeal. We find no separate appeal from that order.

Scott C. Rethorst, appellant, and Jean J. Rethorst, appellee, were married February 25, 1944, in New York, and are the parents of two children, viz.: John Carter Rethorst and Susan Rethorst, aged nine and six years, respectively. Mr. and Mrs. Rethorst after their marriage lived in Akron, Ohio, Washington, D. C., Arlington, Virginia, and Pasadena, California. In September, 1950, while the United States was engaged in the Korean conflict, the appellant, who was attending the California Institute of Technology, took a leave of absence to do work again as an Air Force consultant in the District of Columbia. At first he resided in an apartment in Washington, D. C., but recalling the housing problem during World War II, shorty after his arrival he purchased a home in Montgomery County, to which he brought his family. There is evidence supporting his contention that this was meant to be only a temporary abode, and we think that his domicile continued to be in California. In the interest of brevity, we shall not review the evidence leading to that conclusion, which is not really disputed. (The finding of the California court referred to below does not determine his residence prior to September 27, 1953.)

In February, 1952, the appellee decided to separate from her husband, and she rented an apartment in Montgomery County for herself and the two children. Within a few days after the separation she filed this suit in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County for a divorce a mensa et thoro from the appellant on the ground of abandonment and she asked that the custody of the children be awarded to her. On February 15, 1952, a show cause order was signed allowing her $300 a month alimony pendente lite and initial counsel fees of $300, and a copy of the bill of complaint and of the order to show cause were served on the appellant personally on February 20, 1952. An informal agreement was reached by the parties under which the husband agreed to make payments of $200 a month for the support of his wife and children. The docket entries show no further action in this suit until August 30, 1954.

The order to show cause, which provided for the payment of alimony pendente lite, did not refer specifically either to the custody of the children or to their support. The informal agreement between the parties evidently was to the effect that the children should live with the appellee, that the payments by the appellant were to be for their support as well as for the benefit of the appellee, and that the appellant should have the right to visit the children and to take them out with him, returning them to their mother in the evening. 1 This agreement was adhered to until August 28, 1954. In September, 1953, the appellant had returned to his graduate studies at the California Institute of Technology, but he returned to Montgomery County on an extended visit in the summer of 1954 and resumed his visits to the children. During a visit on August 28, 1954, the appellant took the children from the appellee's apartment as on other occasions. This time, however, he put them on board a train, without any notice to the appellee of his intention to do so, and took them with him to California.

While en route to California the appellant mailed back his answer to the bill of complaint in this suit. This answer was filed in proper person, and not through counsel, though its form and content suggest that he had legal assistance in preparing it. Its most important features were a denial of the charge of desertion and an admission that the parties were residents of Maryland. From this point on something of a transcontinental legal battle developed quite rapidly.

Mrs. Rethorst undertook to give notice by mail to the appellant that her deposition was to be taken at Rockville, Maryland, on September 21, 1954. For some reason not explained, it was taken on September 14th. Mr. Rethorst was not present, nor was he represented by counsel. He had not given any address in California when he sent his wife a note, dated August 28th, saying that he was taking the children there, and the notice appears to have been sent to the place where he had been visiting in Montgomery County, which was the former residence of the parties. A registered mail, return receipt requested, typewritten letter from the appellant to the appellee suggesting reconciliation was received by her on September 14, 1954. It gave a Pasadena post office box return address.

On or about September 16th, Mrs. Rethorst left by plane for California and went to Pasadena. It took her a few days to locate her husband and the children. She promptly instituted a habeas corpus proceeding on September 24, 1954, in Pasadena to try to regain custody of the children, and a summons in that case was served on the husband the next day.

He reacted by filing a bill for a divorce on September 27, 1954, charging extreme cruelty and desertion. In that suit he also sought custody of the minor children. Both the habeas corpus case and that divorce suit were filed in the Superior Court of California in and for Los Angeles County, and they were consolidated. Process was served upon the wife in the divorce suit. She was represented by counsel, appeared at several hearings and offered testimony in the California proceedings.

As the California proceedings were getting under way, the appellee, through her Maryland counsel, filed a petition on September 24, 1954, in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County for custody of the children pendente lite. This petition and the testimony taken on September 14th, which was filed with it, showed the removal of the children from Maryland by their father on August 28th. The Circuit Court issued an order on September 24, 1954, awarding custody of the children to the mother.

On September 28, 1954, counsel (not the appellant's present counsel) entered his appearance for Mr. Rethorst in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County, and on November 9, 1954, filed an answer on his behalf to the wife's petition of September 24. By this answer the appellant denied any wrongdoing on his part in taking the children to California, referred at some length to the California divorce action and proceedings therein, and denied that he had been a resident of Maryland after September 10, 1953, but reiterated his earlier admission that he had been a resident of Maryland when the wife's suit was filed in February, 1952. He asserted the presence of the children in California and his own residence there. He concluded with a prayer that the wife's petition for custody pendente lite be dismissed, 'since the California Court has jurisdiction of said children and is proceeding to hear the matter of custody at the present time.'

There was considerable activity in California during the fall of 1954, not all of which need be detailed here. The California court held several hearings. On October 27th it enjoined each of the parties temporarily from removing the children from its jurisdiction. Later--in November, 1954--it awarded custody of the children, pendente lite to the mother, and she returned to Maryland with the children. In October her testimony was taken by deposition in Los Angeles for use in the Maryland case. Insofar as the custody of the children was concerned, it was substantially the same as that given in her deposition of September 14th in Maryland.

On December 1, 1954, the appellant filed an amended complaint in the California case, and on January 24, 1955, the appellee filed an answer thereto. In addition to asserting defenses on the merits, she urged that the California case was barred by the Maryland suit or at least should be abated during its pendency. She also contended that even if a divorce were granted to her husband, the custody of the children should be awarded to her. The California case resulted in findings and a decree entered on May 14, 1956, which (inter alia) found the husband to have been a resident of California for at least a year prior to the date of filing the complaint (September 27, 1954), that the husband was entitled to a divorce on the grounds of cruelty and desertion, that he had not deserted the wife, that whe was not entitled to alimony, and that each of the parties was a fit person to have custody of the children, and awarded custody of the son to the husband and of the daughter to the wife, with provisions for payments by the husband for the support and care of the daughter. It also allowed a counsel fee to the wife's California counsel. This decree was, however, interlocutory and, though it determined the issues between the parties, it did not have the effect of dissolving the marriage. That would not occur until a year later.

During the pendency of the California case there was also considerable activity in the Maryland suit in addition to that already mentioned. So much of it as...

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