California Court May Award Attorney Fees in Divorce Cases

justice-srb-1-1040136-m.jpgThe California Family Code strives to create an even playing field for spouses who are going through divorce proceedings. One significant matter concerns the ability of each spouse to be represented by an attorney. In many cases, one party earns a larger income than the other and can afford to pay for legal representation, while the other may not be in a financial position to do so. The law, which applies to divorce cases in San Diego and throughout the state, provides a mechanism by which the parties will both have access to legal representation. If you are considering a divorce, the most effective way to protect your rights is to contact an experienced family law attorney as early as possible in the proceedings.

Unfortunately, some dissolution of marriage cases are contentious and drawn out. A recent case, In re Marriage of Mead, involved a 10-year litigation brought by the husband against his ex-wife. In his most recent legal proceeding, the husband argued that the trial court did not have subject-matter jurisdiction to order him to pay attorney fees after his last appeal. According to the facts relevant to this particular proceeding, the parties entered into a marital settlement agreement in 2004. In 2005, the court entered judgment pursuant to the agreement. The agreement provided, among other things, that the husband would pay his ex-wife $50,000 to equalize the division of marital assets.

The husband failed to make that payment. Instead, he prolonged the proceedings by filing various motions to vacate, resisting his ex-wife’s motion to enforce the settlement, filing for bankruptcy protection, and seeking two unsuccessful appeals in this court. Ultimately, the court awarded the ex-wife over $80,000 in attorney fees under Sections 271 and 2030 of the Family Code for defending the latest appeal. Once again, the husband appealed, arguing that the court did not have the jurisdiction to hear and decide the matter under the Code of Civil Procedure Section 664.6. Specifically, he claimed that under that statute, the court could not award attorney fees once the divorce action was no longer pending, in the absence of a request by the parties to retain jurisdiction.

The court rejected his argument, pointing to a distinction between a party’s rights under Civil Procedure Code Section 664.6 and under Family Code Section 2030. Section 664.6 provides a mechanism by which a party may seek to enforce a settlement. Here, the count concluded that the ex-wife filed a motion years later, under the Family Code, to recover attorney fees for the appellate proceeding only. The court noted that this was not an attempt “to enforce the settlement” and likened her position in this proceeding to any other litigant in family court who successfully defends an appeal and is awarded costs.

One of the troubling aspects of this case is its sheer length and the husband’s incessant litigious conduct. The court even noted that the husband came “perilously close” to receiving certain sanctions. While this is an unpublished opinion, and parties may not rely on or cite to it in future matters, the underlying legal principles may serve to inform later cases in this jurisdiction.

This case is a good example of the need to hire effective, experienced counsel who is dedicated to moving your family law case along while protecting your interests. Mr. Doppelt is an experienced divorce attorney representing families for more than 20 years in Southern California. Doppelt & Forney serves clients in Linda Vista, Encinitas, Scripps Ranch, San Diego, and throughout Southern California. For a free consultation with a dedicated and experienced family lawyer, contact Doppelt & Forney through the law firm’s website or give us a call toll-free at (800) ROY IS IT (769-4748).

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In Divorce Proceeding, Court Denied Wife’s Request for Attorney’s Fees

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