Rosser v. Rosser, 011019 UTCA, 20170736-CA

Docket Nº:20170736-CA
Opinion Judge:HARRIS, JUDGE
Party Name:Holly Rebecca Rosser, Appellee, v. Ronald Lee Rosser, Appellant.
Attorney:Steven W. Beckstrom, Attorney for Appellant Stephen D. Spencer, Attorney for Appellee
Judge Panel:Judge Ryan M. Harris authored this Opinion, in which Judges David N. Mortensen and Diana Hagen concurred.
Case Date:January 10, 2019
Court:Court of Appeals of Utah
 
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2019 UT App 5

Holly Rebecca Rosser, Appellee,

v.

Ronald Lee Rosser, Appellant.

No. 20170736-CA

Court of Appeals of Utah

January 10, 2019

Sixth District Court, Panguitch Department The Honorable Paul D. Lyman No. 154600013

Steven W. Beckstrom, Attorney for Appellant

Stephen D. Spencer, Attorney for Appellee

Judge Ryan M. Harris authored this Opinion, in which Judges David N. Mortensen and Diana Hagen concurred.

OPINION

HARRIS, JUDGE

¶1 Ronald Lee Rosser and Holly Rebecca Rosser divorced in 2016 pursuant to a stipulated decree of divorce that was the result of mediation. One of the points of contention in their divorce case was how the parties would divide their 2015 tax obligations. At the conclusion of the mediation, the parties apparently agreed to split the 2015 tax liability equally. A few weeks later, however, both parties executed a stipulated decree of divorce that obligated Holly[1] to "pay any tax liabilities . . . for the year 2015." Later, after Ronald refused to pay any of the outstanding 2015 tax obligation, Holly obtained an order to show cause and asked the district court to hold Ronald in contempt of court for refusing to pay his share of the 2015 taxes. The court granted Holly's request and found Ronald in contempt. Ronald now appeals, and we agree with Ronald that the actions he was found to have taken do not constitute statutory contempt of court. Accordingly, we vacate nearly the entirety of the district court's contempt order, and remand this case for further proceedings.

BACKGROUND

¶2 After twenty-five years of marriage, Holly and Ronald separated in 2014, and Holly later petitioned for divorce. Over the course of their marriage, the parties acquired various assets, including several vehicles, a residence in Panguitch, Utah, two other parcels of real property, and a number of franchise restaurants that were owned by a company in which Holly and Ronald each held a 50% stake. In addition to these assets, the parties also had certain debts, including a $29, 902.71 tax obligation owed to the IRS for the 2015 tax year. The parties took opposing positions regarding the division of some of these assets and liabilities.

¶3 In an attempt to resolve their differences prior to trial, the parties agreed to participate in mediation on June 16, 2016. During that mediation session, the parties were able to come to an agreement regarding all of their issues, including the 2015 tax obligation. This consensus was memorialized in a three-page written agreement (the Mediation Agreement) that was signed by all parties immediately upon completion of the mediation. With regard to the tax obligation, the Mediation Agreement states as follows: "IRS debt from 2015, 50% Ron and 50% Holly." The parties also agreed that Ronald would be entitled to certain "rebates" that the couple's business received.

¶4 In the weeks following the mediation, Holly paid her half of the 2015 tax obligation. For reasons unclear from the record, Ronald did not. However, Ronald did contact the parties' accountant and identify several additional tax deductions that he thought could potentially reduce the parties' 2015 tax liability. Acting on Ronald's instructions, in July 2016 the accountant prepared an amended 2015 tax return for Ronald and Holly. In preparing that return, however, the accountant mistakenly assumed that the entire previous 2015 tax obligation of $29, 902.71 had already been paid, when in reality only half of it (Holly's half) had actually been paid. As a result, the amended tax return indicated that not only did Ronald and Holly not owe any taxes for 2015, they were actually due a tax refund of approximately $7, 900. Holly would later testify that, operating on the assumption that Ronald had paid his half of the preexisting 2015 tax obligation as she had done, she believed that the amended returns were accurate and that the parties were in fact owed a refund. For his part, Ronald would later testify that he also believed the amended tax returns were accurate, but premised this belief on a different assumption: that Holly had paid the entirety of the 2015 tax obligation in consideration for other income she had negotiated from him. Apparently both under the belief that the amended returns were accurate, the parties signed those returns on or about August 22, 2016.

¶5 On or about August 4, 2016-after the amended tax returns had been prepared and reviewed, but before either party actually signed them-the parties and their attorneys all signed a Stipulated Motion for Entry of Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law and Final Decree of Divorce. With respect to the 2015 tax obligation, that stipulation stated-in contrast to the Mediation Agreement-that Holly "shall be solely entitled to receive any refund resulting from the amended returns, and shall also be responsible to pay any tax liabilities resulting to any of the Parties for the year 2015." A few days later, on August 8, 2016, the district court signed a Final Decree of Divorce (the Decree) in accordance with the parties' stipulated motion. Under the terms of the Decree, Holly "shall be solely entitled to receive any refund resulting from the amended [2015 tax] returns, and shall also be responsible to pay any tax liabilities resulting to any of the Parties for the year 2015." The Decree also states that Ronald is entitled to the rebates as agreed upon at the...

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