On November 20, 2015, a California Court of Appeals ruled that Trial Court was not wrong in making an attorney’s fee order pursuant to California Family Code Sections 2030 and 271 without making specific findings as to the sums awarded under each statute, or by including in Mother’s income the amounts that her father paid for her attorney’s fees. In the case of In re Marriage of Smith, Mother and Father were divorced in 2002, but they continued to litigate child custody and support issues. Mother even brought Father’s new spouse (Wife) into the litigation at one point.
In December of 2008, Father filed for child support modification, attorney’s fee order, and sanctions. He later followed up in January 2010, with a motion for child custody modification. In August of 2012, Mother filed a motion for child support modification. Those three proceedings were consolidated into a trial which ended on June 27, 2013.
On July 3, 2013, Trial Court heard arguments regarding attorney’s fees and sanctions. On November 4, 2013, Trial Court issued findings of fact in which it noted that Mother and her attorney had engaged in “overzealous litigation” which made the proceedings unduly complicated and created a “morass of litigation, the primary purpose of which was to ruin [Father and Wife] financially.” Trial Court further noted that Mother was not concerned with running up big attorney’s fee bills because her father was paying her fees, and that her father had testified that the fee payments were loans against Mother’s ultimate inheritance of $6 Million. Trial Court also stated that Father and Wife lacked savings or liquid assets to match Mother’s father’s financial aid and were financing their attorney’s fees with credit cards. Accordingly, Trial Court ordered Mother to pay $124,352 for Wife’s attorney’s fees and $151,967 for Father’s (minus a specified offset).
Claiming that Trial Court erred by failing to differentiate between fee awards made pursuant to the two statutes and by making fee award under either statute, Mother appealed. The California Court of Appeals has now affirmed Trial Court and has found that (1) Trial Court need not differentiate the amounts awarded under each statute where entire amount of fee order would be appropriate under either statute; (2) California Family Code Section 2030 seeks to ensure that each party has sufficient access to legal representation by making needs-based award where necessary; (3) fee award under California Family Code Section 2030 may be ordered from community property, separate property, principal, or income; (4) pursuant to the case of In re Marriage of Alter (2009) 171 Cal.App.4th 718 [Trial Court may consider recurring gifts of money as income] and In re Marriage of Williamson (2014) 226 Cal.App.4th 1303 [advance against inheritance may be treated as gift], Trial Court did not err in including Mother’s father’s payments of Mother’s attorney’s fees as income to Mother for purposes of determining parties’ relative circumstances in calculating fee award; and (5) it need not decide whether fee awards were proper under California Family Code Section 271 because the awards were proper under California Family Code Section 2030.