In re: Christopher A. Trentadue, Debtor,
Julie Gay, Defendant-Appellee. Christopher A. Trentadue, Plaintiff-Appellant,
February 11, 2016
from the United States District Court for the Eastern
District of Wisconsin. No. 15-CV-388 - J.P. Stadtmueller,
Ripple, Kanne, and Williams, Circuit Judges.
and debtor Christopher A. Trentadue and his wife divorced in
2007, and as part of that judgment, Trentadue and his then
ex-wife received joint legal custody of the couple's six
children. This arrangement proved unworkable and resulted in
protracted litigation over custody and child support. The
Wisconsin state court overseeing the litigation determined
that Trentadue's conduct resulted in excessive trial time
to resolve the case and awarded Trentadue's ex-wife $25,
000 in attorney's fees for "overtrial." The
state court directed Trentadue to make the payment directly
to his ex-wife's attorney Defendant Julie M. Gay
never paid Gay. Instead, he filed a chapter 13 bankruptcy
petition. Gay countered by filing a $25, 000 claim for the
unpaid overtrial award and classified it as a
non-dischargeable, domestic support obligation entitled to
priority. Trentadue objected that the obligation was imposed
as a punishment and therefore could not be a domestic support
obligation, but the bankruptcy court overruled his objection.
The district court agreed with the bankruptcy court after
Trentadue challenged its ruling. We find no error and affirm
the decision of the district court.
case traces its roots to a May 2010 filing made by
Trentadue's ex-wife to modify placement and child support
related to one child. The filing ignited a contentious,
three-year legal dispute over custody, placement, health
insurance, and child support that involved substantial motion
practice, requests for contempt findings, engagement of
experts, and evidentiary hearings. The Wisconsin state court
handling the case provided its oral decision on pending
matters in November 2012 and entered its Findings of Fact and
Amended Order in May 2013.
in this May 2013 order that the state court determined that
Trentadue committed "significant over-trial" and
ordered that he "contribute $25, 000 toward [his
ex-wife's] attorney fees." In support of its
finding, the state court observed the following: (1)
Trentadue "expended a great deal of trial time"
pursuing the issue of where to send the children to high
school; (2) the experts engaged by Trentadue and a
"significant number of witnesses called" on his
behalf "undercut his position;" (3) "[h]e
raised issues that did not need to be addressed" that
"protracted the trial well beyond what was
necessary;" and (4) he "raised repeatedly" the
same issues to the court. In sum, the court determined
"Tren-tadue's desire to 'win' and control
resulted in additional legal fees for [his ex-wife]."
The state court directed Trentadue to pay the $25, 000
directly to his ex-wife's lawyer, Gay. In the same order,
the trial court memorialized its findings with regard to
custody, placement, health insurance, and child support,
including evaluating each party's ability to pay.
Trentadue appealed the ruling to the Wisconsin Court of
in July 2013, Trentadue filed a petition for bankruptcy under
Chapter 13. Gay countered by filing a claim for $25, 000 and
labeled it a priority, non-dischargeable domestic support
obligation ("DSO") under 11 U.S.C § 507(a)(1).
Trentadue objected to the claim's classification as a DSO
and argued it should be considered non-priority and unsecured
because the trial court ordered the payment as punishment,
the bankruptcy court resolved Trentadue's objection, the
Wisconsin Court of Appeals issued its decision in November
2014 in which it affirmed the trial court's order,
including the overtrial award. Trentadue appealed to the
Wisconsin Supreme Court, but it declined to hear his case.
March 2015, the bankruptcy court overruled Trentadue's
objection and allowed Gay's claim to be classified as a
DSO. The bankruptcy court determined that Trentadue's
claim was not a punishment but was instead meant to
"compensate for the harm he had done" to the
children in the form of an "expensive custody
litigation" that would have a negative financial and
emotional impact on them. In re Trentadue, 527 B.R.
328, 334-35 (Bankr. E.D. Wis. 2015). Trentadue appealed the
bankruptcy court's decision to the district court, which
affirmed the bankruptcy court's ruling. This appeal
advances two arguments as to why we should reject the
classification of his $25, 000 debt to Gay as a DSO: (1) the
overtrial award can never be a DSO because it is not payable
to his spouse, former spouse, child, or a caregiver and (2)
the overtrial award was intended to be a punishment and not
in the nature of support. We address each argument in turn.
Identity of the Payee
argues that under 11 U.S.C. § 101(14A), the identity of
the payee is relevant to determining whether a debt may be
considered a DSO. Trentadue is correct. For a debt to qualify
as a DSO, it must satisfy all four requirements under §
101 (14A), including the requirement that the debt be
"owed to or recoverable by-(i) a spouse, former spouse,
or child of the debtor or such child's parent, legal
guardian, or responsible relative; or (ii) a governmental
unit." Trentadue argues that Gay's debt is
dischargeable because it is payable to her, not to
Trentadue's spouse, former spouse, child, or caregiver.
this issue is not relevant to this appeal. Trentadue
did not raise this argument before the bankruptcy court or
the district court and therefore did ...