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LAVERNE LAUGHLIN v. JOHN J. LAUGHLIN (03/07/88)

filed: March 7, 1988.

LAVERNE LAUGHLIN, APPELLEE,
v.
JOHN J. LAUGHLIN, APPELLANT



Appeal from the Order April 21, 1987, in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Family No. F.D. 83-2957.

COUNSEL

John E. Nickoloff, Pittsburgh, for appellant.

Daniel P. McDyer, Pittsburgh, for appellee.

Olszewski, Tamilia and Kelly, JJ.

Author: Olszewski

[ 372 Pa. Super. Page 25]

Appellant (husband) appeals from the trial court's order holding him in contempt of court. In this appeal, appellant presents three issues for our review: (1) whether the trial court erred by holding appellant in contempt of court for failing to comply with a trial court order; (2) whether the trial court erred by attaching appellant's wages to enforce a

[ 372 Pa. Super. Page 26]

    court order solely for the payment of equitable distribution; and (3) whether the trial court erred by directing appellant to pay counsel fees. For the reasons stated below, the order of the trial court is affirmed in part and reversed in part.

The parties were married in April of 1960. In August of 1984, the trial court entered a bifurcated decree divorcing the parties and referring the economic issues to a master. After conducting a hearing, the master filed his recommendation and report. Appellee (wife) subsequently filed exceptions to the master's report. On January 12, 1987, the trial court adopted the master's findings and recommendations and entered a final decree disposing of the economic issues. Neither party appealed from this order.

On March 10, 1987, appellee filed a petition for the attachment of wages and a rule to show cause why appellant should not be held in contempt for his failure to pay appellee the monies owed to her pursuant to the trial court's order of January 12, 1987. A rule was issued which was returnable on April 21, 1987, at which time the trial court conducted a hearing and ordered the attachment of appellant's wages and the execution of a beneficiary designation form for a life insurance policy issued on the life of appellant (the requirement of a life insurance policy was directed by the trial court in paragraph 2 of its January 12, 1987 order). Appellant appeals from the trial court's order of April 21, 1987.

Appellant first contends that the trial court erred by holding appellant in contempt of court for failing to comply with the trial court's order of January 12, 1987. The general rule regarding civil contempt cases is that the complaining party has the burden of proving noncompliance with the court order by a preponderance of the evidence, and that present inability to comply is an affirmative defense to be proved by the contemnor. See In re Grand Jury, April Term, 1977, Wayne County, 251 Pa. Super. 43, 379 A.2d 323 (1977). In considering an appeal from a contempt order, this Court must place great reliance on the

[ 372 Pa. Super. Page 27]

    sound discretion of the trial judge. See Commonwealth ex rel. Ermel v. Ermel, 322 Pa. Super. 400, 469 A.2d 682 (1983). Instantly, appellant argues that the trial court erred in holding him in contempt for his failure to comply with the January 12, 1987 order since that order did not impose a time constraint on appellant ...


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