It’s not uncommon for a hearing to occur and a judge to take a matter under advisement. That means the judge essentially wants to think about the matter before deciding what to do. Sometimes days or weeks pass before an order actually issues, but as we explain here, eventually, an order must issue.

In many divorce decrees, the Court makes provisions for maintenance of a life insurance policy by one of both spouses, to benefit the ex-spouse or the minor children of the marriage. In one recent case, the Appeals Court discussed an agreement regarding life insurance and a related issue of contempt.

At the time of the parties’ divorce in 1995, the father in Creedon v. Haynes [1] agreed to designate his minor children as beneficiaries of his life insurance policy, which he said he held at the Fire Department of the town where he worked, and which he represented had a value of $100,000. It turned out there was no such policy. When the mother found that out, in 2011, she filed a complaint for contempt.

The trial judge found the father to be in contempt, and awarded the mother a creditor’s claim against the father’s estate for the amount of $100,000. Though the trial judge announced his decision, there was no written judgment entered on the docket. The mother, concerned about the lack of a written judgment, filed a motion asking for a judgment and an order to issue on the complaint for contempt. Because the first judge had retired, a second judge heard the motion. The second judge completely dismissed the contempt complaint, holding that the issue of the father’s maintenance of life insurance was moot, because the children were not adults.

Addressing the mother’s appeal, the Appeals Court vacated that holding. The Appeals Court noted that the mother’s motion was not a vehicle which allowed the second judge to substantively reconsider the first judge’s decision.

“Whereas the trial judge accepted the plain language of the separation agreement, the second judge did not, concluding that the father’s life insurance obligation was limited to securing his child support obligation and that the obligation expired when all the children reached majority,” the Court noted. “The second judge could not have reached these conclusions without resorting to extrinsic evidence, which, in turn, also necessarily depended on her having determined that the contract language was ambiguous or that its plain language did not accurately reflect the intent of the parties—all factual matters the second judge was in no position to decide differently than the trial judge.”[2]

[1] Creedon v. Haynes, No. 16-P-184 (October 13, 2016-December 6, 2016).

[2] Id., at 8.