(CN) – A Saudi ambassador to the United States whose marriage was annulled on the grounds of bigamy should not have been held in contempt over a six-figure tab for child support, the Virginia Court of Appeals ruled.
Faysal Zedan, the ambassador, married Sylvie Westheim in 1995, and the couple had three children before separating in 2004.
The Fairfax County Circuit Court annulled the marriage in 2006 after finding that Zedan had been married to another woman since 1966. The order required him to pay $7,000 a month in child support.
But Zedan, whose Saudi Arabia address was listed in the court records, claimed that he never received notice of the order. When he visited the United States in 2011, Westheim told the court that he had failed to pay child support.
Though Zedan noted that he had spent time in Ghana and Bahrain after separating from Westheim, the circuit court found him in contempt and ordered him to pay more than $200,000 in child support.
The Alexandria-based Virginia Court of Appeals reversed Thursday.
“There is no evidence that father ever received notice that mother had tendered the annulment decree or that it had been entered,” Judge Stephen McCullough wrote for a three-member panel. “Mother was in regular communication with father, yet she offered no evidence that father was notified of the proposed decree or its entry.”
“Father, who is over 70 years old, was ordered to be incarcerated for willfully disobeying an order despite the fact that no evidence established that he had notice of the order,” McCullough added. “We conclude, therefore, that it was error for the trial court to hold father in contempt of court.”