NORBERTO A.Y. LEON
JESSICA S. CORMIER.
Heard: November 17, 2016.
for divorce filed in the Suffolk Division of the Probate and
Family Court Department on September 7, 2011.
for contempt, filed on January 2, 2015, were heard by Abbe L.
Ross, J., and motions for relief from judgment were
considered by her.
A. Kuperstein (Mary Donahue also present) for the mother.
Norberto A.Y. Leon, pro se.
Present: Hanlon, Sullivan, & Blake, JJ.
of the Probate and Family Court held the mother, Jessica
Cormier, in civil contempt for violations of a decision
issued by an agreed-upon parent coordinator. Cormier appeals,
arguing that the parent coordinator's decision was not an
order or judgment of the court and therefore cannot be
enforced by a finding of contempt. After review, we conclude
that, at least under the circumstances of this case, the
parent coordinator's decision was, in fact, an order of
the court pursuant to the judgment of divorce nisi; we
November 20, 2012, the parties executed a separation
agreement which was incorporated in the corrected judgment of
divorce nisi on December 7, 2012, as of November 20, 2012.
According to the judgment, the terms of the agreement were
given the "full force and effect of an order of [the]
[c]ourt." The agreement provided, among other things,
that "[t]he parties may modify the parenting plan by
agreement" and, in so doing, agree to use the services
of a mutually selected parent coordinator to assist them if
they are "unable to agree on any matter related to the
parenting plan[, ] including educational
changes." The parties also agreed in advance that
the decisions of the parent coordinator "[would] be
binding on the parties unless altered, modified or terminated
by [c]ourt order."
following a series of disputes about several things,
including the location where the children were to be picked
up and dropped off during custody exchanges, the parties
agreed to use the services of the mutually selected parent
coordinator. On December 21, 2013, the parent coordinator
sent an electronic mail (e-mail) message to the parties,
clarifying a previous decision and specifying, among other
things, the details of future visitation exchanges and the
timing of e-mail communications between the
parties.,  At no point did the mother indicate that
she did not intend to be bound by the decision of the parent
coordinator, nor did she ask the judge to modify or terminate
the coordinator's order.
the next one and one-half years or so, the mother failed to
follow the prescribed exchange procedures and frequently sent
nonemergency e-mail messages to the father at times other
than the "designated Tuesday email time." She also
instructed the father, on several occasions, contrary to the
order, to pick up the children in Pepperell, rather than in
Chelmsford. In January, 2015, the father filed three
complaints for contempt -- one for the alleged violations
relating to e-mail communications; one for alleged violations
of the visitation exchange protocol; and a third, described
by the judge as a "catchall"
contempt hearing, each party appeared pro se. The mother
testified that, because she was not served with the
attachments to the plaintiff's complaint, she was not
given proper notice of the charges against her. Specifically,
with respect to the complaint relating to e-mail
communications, the mother argued that she had not been
provided with a copy of the e-mail messages the father
offered in support of his complaint. As to the complaint
relating to the visitation exchange location, she argued that
the parties had "a clear order" from the parent
coordinator that "the exchanges took place exclusively
in Pepperell." Although the judge offered to continue
the hearing to another day so that the mother had sufficient
time to receive and review the documentation she claimed she
had not received, she responded that she "would rather
just get it over with today."
on the evidence presented at the hearing, the judge found the
mother in contempt, concluding that, although the mother had
the ability to comply, she "willfully [had]
violated" the orders of the parent coordinator. The
judge noted in her findings that the court had "played
no role in the parties' decision to give the [p]arent
[c]oordinator binding authority" and that the parties
"clearly [had] expressed their advance consent to be
bound by a decision of the [p]arent [c]oordinator in their
[s]eparation [a]greement." The judge also found that
"the fact that the [s]eparation [a]greement provided
that either party could bring the matter before the [c]ourt
before the decision was to take effect to try and