Ex-Husband Incarcerated for Failure to Maintain Life Insurance

September 2, 2011
Louis Sternberg

Provisions in divorce decrees or settlement agreements mandating that one party maintain a life insurance policy, often to secure payment of child support or spousal maintenance, are very common.   Just like any other provision of a court order, failure to obey can result in a finding of contempt.

The plaintiff (and former-wife) in DA v. BA, filed a motion asking the court to hold her ex-husband in contempt for failing to maintain a “a policy of insurance, insuring his life in the minimum face value of $2,000,000.00 with plaintiff/wife and unemancipated children as irrevocable beneficiaries thereof.” The policy had been included in a stipulation of settlement executed by the parties and incorporated into their Judgment of Divorce.

During the contempt hearing, the defendant irked the court by blatantly perjuring himself on several occasions including testifying that he could not afford the premiums despite earning $500,000 per year and by stating that “during lunch he remembered that he also had open heart surgery on October 27, 2010 and that was the reason he could not get a life insurance policy.”  According to the court this testimony was “simply not believable or credible.” The defendant also presented no evidence of his financial inability to afford the premiums or even any evidence that he had made any attempt to obtain such a policy.

The court found the defendant to be in contempt for his willful violation of the court order and ordered his imprisonment for a period of six months or until he obtains the insurance policy.  Adding salt to the wound, the court also ordered that the defendant pay his ex-wife’s counsel fees in the amount of $16,442.62.

There seems to be some unfounded belief among support obligors that, despite any additional obligations ordered by the court, keeping current on support payments is sufficient. When confronted with their failure to maintain a required insurance policy, many litigants declare that simply paying their child support or spousal maintenance is “good enough.”  Unfortunately for those people, that is not good enough and while it is true that courts are often hesitant to incarcerate for failure to maintain an insurance policy, DA v. BA should be an important lesson to those people.