District Court, Panguitch Department The Honorable Paul D.
Lyman No. 154600013
W. Beckstrom, Attorney for Appellant
Stephen D. Spencer, Attorney for Appellee
Ryan M. Harris authored this Opinion, in which Judges David
N. Mortensen and Diana Hagen concurred.
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 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.
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
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.
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.
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 mediation.
Holly later discovered that the amended tax returns were
inaccurate, and that instead of being entitled to a $7, 900
refund for tax year 2015, the parties still owed $7, 174.98.
Under the terms of the recently-entered Decree, Holly was
obligated to make this payment, but she considered that
result unfair since she had already paid her half of the 2015
tax obligation, as the parties had agreed at mediation, and
Ronald had not. In part because she felt as though Ronald
owed her money related to the 2015 tax obligation, she
declined to pass along to Ronald certain rebate checks she
received to which Ronald was entitled under the terms of the
On November 21, 2016, Holly filed a Motion for Order to Show
Cause, alleging that Ronald had defrauded her and asking the
court to order Ronald to pay his share of the parties'
2015 tax obligations as well as her attorney fees in bringing
the motion. A few weeks later, Ron filed his own Motion for
Order to Show Cause, alleging that Holly had willfully failed
to comply with the provision of the Decree that concerned the
rebates. Eventually, the district court scheduled both
motions for an evidentiary hearing. During that hearing,
Holly testified that Ronald had misled her into believing
that he had paid his share of the parties' 2015 tax
obligation assigned to him pursuant to the Mediation
Agreement. Ronald, by contrast, testified that Holly was not
only aware that he had not done so, but that after mediation
she had agreed to pay the entirety of the tax obligation.
With regard to the rebates, Holly acknowledged that she had
received rebate checks to which Ronald was entitled under the
Decree, but stated that she had not passed those along to
Ronald because she felt that he owed her money related to the
2015 tax obligations.
At the conclusion of the hearing, the court found that Ronald
deceived Holly by allowing her to believe that he had paid
his share of the tax obligation, and that Holly had not in
fact agreed to pay it herself. The court then found Ronald in
contempt of court for "his deliberate deceit and failure
to act as agreed between the parties on June 16, 2016,"
and ordered Ronald to pay Holly approximately $15, 000 plus
reasonable attorney fees, which were later determined to be
$4, 000. The court also found that Holly had "failed to
make" the rebate payments to Ronald as required by the
Decree, but that Holly's conduct "did not
intentionally violate the Decree" because Holly was
"merely reacting to [Ronald's] deceit."
Accordingly, the court allowed Holly to "offset"
the rebate amounts she owed Ronald against the amount it
determined Ronald owed her on the tax issue. After
quantifying the amount of attorney fees to which it believed
Holly was entitled, the court ...