STANISLAW W. PIWOWARCZYK
EWA B. PIWOWARCZYK.
Heard: April 3, 2019.
for divorce filed in the Worcester Division of the Probate
and Family Court Department on May 5, 2016. A complaint for
contempt, filed on November 6, 2017, was heard by Geoffrey R.
Rosseel for the wife.
Katarzyna J. Wennerberg for the husband.
Present: Milkey, Neyman, & Englander, JJ.
contempt proceeding with respect to a divorce judgment, the
former wife (wife) was ordered to pay for the former
husband's (husband) health insurance even though she had
left her job in Massachusetts, moved to Florida, and no
longer had health insurance of her own. The operative clause
of the parties' separation agreement (agreement), which
was incorporated into the divorce judgment, provided that the
wife would maintain her "[c]urrently existing health
insurance or equivalent thereof" for the benefit of the
husband "for so long as he remains eligible under the
plan at no additional cost to the [w]ife." Because we
conclude that the judge erred in construing this clause, we
recite those facts from the record that are not
disputed. The husband and wife were married for
twenty-five years, and divorced in 2016. On December 14,
2016, a judge of the Probate and Family Court issued a
judgment of divorce incorporating the parties'
agreement. Relevant here is the clause in Addendum B
of the agreement, which addressed the wife's obligation
to maintain health insurance for the husband, postdivorce
(health insurance clause):
"1. Currently existing health insurance or equivalent
thereof shall be maintained by the [w]ife for the benefit of
the [h]usband for as long as he remains eligible under the
plan at no additional cost to the [w]ife. If there is an
additional cost to provide health insurance for the [h]usband
the [h]usband shall pay said additional amount to the [w]ife
each and every month on the first day of each month or
forfeit said insurance coverage."
to the divorce, the wife had worked at a local savings bank
for many years, and had maintained health insurance for
herself and the husband through the bank's plan. The
husband worked in construction and apparently did not have
access to a health plan through his employer. In October of
2017, after the divorce was final, the wife left her
employment and moved to Florida, to be closer to her two
adult sons. The wife's health insurance was accordingly
cancelled, leaving both the wife and the husband without
health insurance. Although the wife secured temporary
employment in Florida she did not have access to health
insurance through her employer. At the time of these
proceedings, the wife did not have health insurance.
husband filed a complaint for contempt in November of 2017.
After two days of nonevidentiary hearings, the judge issued a
judgment finding the wife in contempt,  and a further
judgment ordering her to pay $369 per month toward the
husband's health insurance. The thrust of the judge's
reasoning, evident from the transcript and the contempt
judgment, is that the wife violated the health insurance
clause by "voluntarily leaving her employment" and
thus causing the husband to become ineligible for coverage
under her plan. The wife appeals.
the wife in contempt, the judge was required to find
"clear and convincing evidence of disobedience of a
clear and unequivocal command." Birchall,
petitioner, 454 Mass. 837, 853 (2009). The contempt
issue accordingly turns, in the first instance, on the
meaning of the health insurance clause. Neither party argued
that the health insurance clause was ambiguous, and the issue
of the construction of the health insurance clause was
treated as a pure question of law for the judge. See
Coloriov.Marx, 72 Mass.App.Ct.