California Court Upholds Attorney Fees Award in High Asset Divorce Case

gavel-1238036The length of a divorce proceeding certainly varies from case to case. Some of the more common factors that tend to affect the duration of a divorce matter include the relative contentiousness of the spouses, whether there are children involved, the amount of assets and debts to be characterized and divided, and the involvement of highly experienced family law counsel. The last item, consulting with an attorney, is especially helpful to protect one’s financial and legal rights, while at the same time moving the process along as efficiently as possible under the circumstances. Since each state has its own marriage and divorce laws, it is important to reach out to an experienced family law attorney from the local San Diego area.

In protracted divorce cases, in which the parties spend a great deal of time litigating the issues, courts may require one party to assist the other in paying attorney fees. Under Section 2030 of the California Family Code, the court will look at whether an award of attorney’s fees and costs is appropriate, whether the parties have a disparate access to funds to retain counsel, and whether one party has the ability to pay for the legal representation of both spouses.

In a recent California “high asset divorce case,” the court ordered the husband to pay $300,000 as his share of the wife’s attorney fees, payable in installments over three years. Here, the couple spent seven years litigating the issues to be resolved in their divorce, beginning in 2006 when the wife filed for dissolution of marriage. Finally, in 2012, the parties reached a stipulation for judgment on many of the issues related to property disputes. However, that stipulation did not address one large property, “Arciero Brothers,” a construction business owned by the husband and his sister.

A few months later, the court found that 90% of the husband’s interest in Arciero Brothers was community property, subject to division. This led to the parties entering into another stipulation resolving the remaining property issues. At this point, the court held a hearing on the final issue to be resolved:  attorney fees. As mentioned above, the court ordered the husband to pay $300,000 in attorney fees. He appealed, arguing that there was no substantial evidence that he had sufficient assets to pay the award.

The court of appeals, however, disagreed with the husband, pointing out that he failed to provide uncontroverted evidence that he did not (and would not) have the funds to pay the award over the three-year period of time provided by the judgment. The court also noted that the husband did not provide a clear balance sheet listing his assets and liabilities, and that there was further evidence that the husband stood to receive another $2.4 million over the next four years. To sum up, the court concluded that under Section 2030, the trial court could have found a “large disparity in assets” between the spouses as they completed the divorce.

This case nicely illustrates the serious financial implications of engaging in protracted and lengthy litigation in a divorce proceeding. Parties are encouraged to consult with a family law attorney who has a great deal of experience handling divorce cases in an efficient manner. For more than 20 years, Roy M. Doppelt has been representing parties in divorce matters 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 law lawyer, contact Doppelt & Forney through the law firm’s website or give us a call toll-free at (800) ROY IS IT (769-4748).

Related Blog Posts:

California Court Upholds Award of Attorney Fees and Sanctions in Divorce Litigation

California Family Code Governs Request for Attorney Fees in Divorce Proceedings

Spouse Seeking Attorney Fees in Divorce Must Show “Disparity” Between the Parties