After hearing argument on application, the Michigan Supreme Court recently issued an Order in lieu of granting leave. remanding a divorce case to the circuit court for clarification of an alimony award. In Friend v Friend , the parties sought a divorce after a 25 year marriage producing two children. The trial court ordered joint legal custody of the couple’s two minor children, while awarding the wife sole physical custody. The trial court permitted the mother to relocate to South Carolina with the children but entered orders for parenting time.
Unfortunately, the children did not wish to see their father for parenting time. The husband suspected that the mother was encouraging the children’s disinclination to see their father. As divorce proceedings continued, the wife continuously refused to abide by court orders entered in an effort to facilitate the relationship between the children and their father. Her lack of effort to take the children to court ordered counseling resulted in a finding of contempt by the trial court. Meanwhile, the trial court ruled on the couple’s property division and spousal support issues.
The wife appealed to the Court of Appeals, seeking clarification of the award. The Court of appeals affirmed and she sought leave to appeal to the Supreme Court. In response to the wife's application, the husband argued that the fugitive disentitlement doctrine barred the wife from seeking redress in the appellate courts because she had failed to follow the trial court's orders in the case.
Although the Supreme Court remanded the case to the trial court for clarification of the alimony award due to the ambiguity as to whether the award was intended to be periodic or alimony in gross, it declined to address the fugitive disentitlement doctrine. Instead, the Court ruled that the wife must abide by the parenting time orders to “purge herself of any outstanding findings of contempt in the circuit court within 90 days of the date of this order.”
Even though the Court declined to adopt the fugitive disentitlement doctrine per se, it is clear from the Court's order that an attorney representing a client in Mrs. Friend's position would be wise to begin rectifying (or prevent) the conditions that led to findings of contempt in the trial court prior to seeking relief on appeal.