McFADDEN, P. J., RICKMAN and MARKLE, JJ.
McFadden, Presiding Judge
Schaffeld appeals the order denying her motion to hold her
former husband in contempt of their divorce decree for
failing to pay alimony. She argues that the trial court erred
in holding that her right to alimony had terminated because
she was involved in a meretricious relationship. We agree
because the evidence is undisputed that Carol Schaffeld had
not entered a relationship that involved continuous, open
cohabitation. So we reverse and remand the case for further
action not inconsistent with this opinion.
2012, Carol Schaffeld and Walter Britt Schaffeld divorced.
The trial court incorporated their settlement agreement into
the divorce decree. The agreement included two provisions
requiring Walter Britt Schaffeld to pay alimony. Only one of
the provisions is at issue in this appeal. That provision
required Walter Britt Schaffeld to pay Carol Schaffeld $2,
500 per month and provided in pertinent part that "the
payments shall cease if the Plaintiff/Husband or the
Defendant/Wife should die, the Defendant/Wife should remarry
or enters into a meretricious relationship."
years after the divorce, Walter Britt Schaffeld concluded
that Carol Schaffeld had entered a meretricious relationship.
He stopped paying the $2, 500 portion of alimony to Carol
Schaffeld directly, although he paid some or all into the
court registry. Carol Schaffeld filed a motion seeking to
hold Walter Britt Schaffeld in contempt for violating the
settlement agreement and divorce decree. The trial court
denied the motion as well as Carol Schaffeld's motion for
new trial or to set aside the judgment. We granted Carol
Schaffeld's application for discretionary review, and
this appeal followed.
Standard of review, evidence, trial court's
The trial court in a contempt case has wide discretion to
determine whether its orders have been violated. . . . If
there is any evidence to support a trial court's
determination that its order has been willfully violated,
this [c]ourt must affirm that determination on appeal.
However, where a contempt action turns on the meaning of
terms in an incorporated settlement agreement, construction
of those terms is a question of law that is subject to de
novo review on appeal.
Sutherlin v. Sutherlin, 301 Ga. 581, 582 (802 S.E.2d
204) (2017) (citations and punctuation omitted). Here, the
relevant facts are largely undisputed, and the finding of
contempt turns on the meaning of the term "meretricious
relationship" in the parties' settlement agreement.
record shows that Carol Schaffeld is in an exclusive
relationship with a physician who practices family medicine
in Dunlap, Tennessee, 45 or 46 miles away from Carol
Schaffeld's residence in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He has
an apartment in Dunlap, in the same building as his office.
have overnight visits and spend as much time together as they
can. But there is no "set schedule" and Carol
Schaffeld does not "know from weekend to weekend if
[she]'ll be able to see him or not." They have taken
trips together and have spent holidays together.
never lived continuously with Carol Schaffeld. He does not
keep clothes or a toothbrush at her house. He does not
receive mail at her house or pay her electric bills. He is
not registered to vote at her house.
Britt Schaffeld and his fiancee conducted surveillance of
Carol Schaffeld's house. On one occasion, her romantic
partner was seen walking out of Carol Schaffeld's front
door. In one three-month period, they observed one or more of
his vehicles parked at Carol Schaffeld's house five
Friday nights, five Saturday nights, and five Sunday nights.
trial court ruled that Walter Britt Schaffeld's alimony
obligation "was terminated upon [Carol Schaffeld's]
cohabitation." The court found that although Carol
Schaffeld and her romantic partner did not spend every night
together, they "lived together when [his medical] clinic
was closed," Saturday through Monday. The court held
that "it would not be logical in our modern mobile
society to ...