In the Matter of Selma Bartlett and Eugene Bartlett
Case No. 2008-0804

Supreme Court of New Hampshire

July 22, 2009

The respondent, Eugene Bartlett, appeals a portion of a post-divorce decree order of the family division. He argues that the trial court erred in ordering that he pay to the petitioner, Selma Bartlett, the difference between the original balance on the parties' Bank of America credit card, a debt which was assigned to him in the parties' divorce decree, and a settlement amount that he subsequently negotiated with the credit card company's collection agent. He contends that the trial court's exercise of discretion was unsustainable because it failed to state on the record the reasons for the award. We affirm.

We will assume without deciding that the respondent has preserved the issue before us for appellate review. See State v. Blackmer, 149 N.H. 47, 48 (2003) (appellate preservation rule requires that specific issue be raised first in trial court to allow trial court to rule on it and correct error before it is presented to appellate court); Starr v. Governor, 151 N.H. 608, 611 (2004) (appellant's claim that trial court order contains error can be preserved by filing motion to reconsider with trial court to provide it opportunity to address or correct alleged error).

The order giving rise to this appeal was issued in response to a motion for contempt. We review orders addressing motions for contempt and decisions to modify property settlements in divorce decrees to determine whether the trial court's exercise of discretion is sustainable. See In the Matter of Martel & Martel, 157 N.H. 53, 61 (2008); In the Matter of Aube & Aube, 158 N.H. ___, ___, 969 A.2d 338, 345 (2009).

The record in this case indicates that, in the allocation of debt portion of the parties' divorce decree, the trial court ordered the respondent to pay the balance due on the parties' Bank of America credit card. In its order addressing the motion for contempt, the trial court found that he had previously been ordered three times to pay the balance in full. At the hearing on the motion for contempt, the petitioner's counsel advised the court that the late, reduced payment had damaged the petitioner's credit rating. The trial court also observed that the petitioner would be required to claim the balance as income for tax purposes.

We are not persuaded based upon this record that the trial court failed to give "any rationale" for its ruling. Even if we accept the respondent's characterization of the trial court's order as accurate, it is not fatal to the relief ordered. See In the Matter of Aube & Aube, 158 N.H. at ___, 969 A.2d at 345 (in the absence of request to do so, trial court's failure to make explicit findings supporting ruling is not error as trial court is presumed to have made subsidiary findings necessary to support general rulings).

Given the length of time in which no payment was made on the outstanding balance and the negative effects that the compromise payment created for the petitioner, we find the trial court's ruling sustainable.


BRODERICK, C.J., and DALIANIS and HICKS, JJ., concurred.