Wife Not Liable for Husband’s Post-separation Debt

A California Appellate Court has ruled that Trial Court erred by entering a judgment against Wife for hospital and medical expenses incurred by Husband during separation that were not assigned to her by the divorce judgment. In the case of C.M.R.E. Financial Services, Inc. v. Parton, Wife called police on February 16, 2006, and told them that Husband had inflicted domestic violence on her. Not long after that, Wife got a restraining order against Husband, and Husband and Wife separated. After separation, Husband was admitted to Tri-City Medical Center (T.C.M.C.), apparently suffering from emotional illness. Husband was hospitalized from February 23, 2006, to February 27, 2006.

On May 17, 2006, Wife filed for divorce. Her divorce petition asserted that T.C.M.C. debt was Husbands obligation alone. The divorce judgment entered by Trial Court on September 26, 2006, did not assign T.C.M.C. debt to Wife.

On January 24, 2008, C.M.R.E. Financial Services, Inc. (C.M.R.E.), as assignee of T.C.M.C., sued Husband and Wife, seeking to collect unpaid T.C.M.C. debt of $26,083, plus interest and attorneys fees. In response, Wife denied material allegations in the complaint and cross-complained against C.M.R.E. for violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act [F.D.C.P.A.; 15 U.S.C. 1692 et seq.] by sending collection notices to her. When C.M.R.E. was unable to serve Husband with the complaint, Trial Court dismissed Husband from suit without prejudice. C.M.R.E. demurred to Wifes cross-complaint, asserting that Wife was liable for Husbands necessaries of life under California Family Code Section 914 and was not relieved of liability by the divorce judgment under California Family Code Section 916(a)(2)[non-debtor spouse not liable for debt of other spouse not assigned to him or her in the divorce judgment.]

Trial Court sustained demurrer without leave to amend and subsequently awarded judgment for C.M.R.E. of $26,083, plus interest, attorneys fees, and costs. Claiming that the divorce judgment relieved her of liability for T.C.M.C. debt, Wife appealed, and California Appellate Court has now reversed and remanded the case back to Trial Court for further action. The Appellate Court has ruled that (1) pursuant to California Family Code Section 4302, spouse is not liable for post-separation debt incurred for other spouses necessaries of life unless parties have so stipulated; (2) California Family Code Section 916(a)(2) relieves non-debtor spouse of liability for other spouses post-separation debt not assigned to him or her in the divorce judgment; (3) California Family Code Section 914 does not impose joint and several liability on spouses that is separate from and not affected by California Family Code Section 916; and (4) Trial Court erred by entering judgment against Wife for T.C.M.C. debt. As a result, the Appellate Court has reversed the judgment against Wife and has vacated the order sustaining the demurrer (Wife stated viable claim for violation of F.D.C.P.A.) Then, the Appellate Court remanded the case to Trial Court to dismiss C.M.R.E.s complaint and to consider whether C.M.R.E. had valid defense to Wifes F.D.C.P.A. cross-complaint.

Mom Gets Custody Despite Her Unclean Hands

A Federal Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that unclean-hands doctrine does not apply in Hague Convention cases. In the case of Karpenko v. Leendertz, Mother and Fathers child was born in Pennsylvania in 2001. In September of 2002, after Mother and Father separated, Pennsylvania Trial Court issued an order (per their custody stipulation) that gave Mother primary physical custody of Child, provided that Mother and Child would live in Mothers home country, Ukraine, and gave Father regular visitation rights to be exercised in Ukraine, the Netherlands (where Father has family), or the United States.

Mother and Child lived in Ukraine until Child was two, when they moved to the Netherlands at Fathers request. When Child was four, she began attending Dutch public school, spoke Dutch as her primary language, and often socialized with Mothers Dutch relatives. Father, whose job as an airline pilot enabled him to travel to Netherlands, later found that Mother was refusing to allow him full visitation with Child.

In 2007, Mother and Child moved to another city without giving Father their new address or phone number. In 2008, Father filed a petition for sole custody in Pennsylvania Trial Court, while Mother filed one in Dutch District Court for Arnhem. That Court stayed Mothers petition, pending action by Pennsylvania Trial Court.

On May 20, 2009, Pennsylvania Trial Court granted Father sole custody of Child, sole authority to apply for passport for Child (without Mothers knowledge or consent), and authority to take custody of Child in U.S. or another country. That Court also granted visitation rights to Mother and adjudged her in contempt for willfully violating its prior orders.

Armed with that order, Father went to Netherlands, but instead of domesticating it in Dutch Trial Court (as required by Dutch law), he found Child outside her school, put her in a car, and drove her to Germany. From there, Father and Child flew to Dubai and then to U.S.

On May 29, 2009, Dutch Trial Court issued order, finding that Father unlawfully removed Child from the Netherlands without Mothers permission and directing Father to return Child to Mothers custody immediately. Father ignored that order and continued to live with his new wife and Child in Pennsylvania.

On July 20, 2009, Mother filed a petition under Hague Convention [codified as International Child Abduction Remedies Act (ICARA) at 42 U.S.C. 11601 et seq.], seeking Childs return to the Netherlands from Fathers wrongful removal. U.S. District Court for Eastern District of Pennsylvania granted Mothers petition, but stayed enforcement of its orders pending Fathers appeal to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.

Acting on that appeal, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the District Courts rulings. The Court of Appeals has ruled that Father wrongfully removed Child from the Netherlands when he employed “a snatch and run” of Child instead of registering his Pennsylvania custody order and seeking enforcement. Majority further holds that the unclean-hands doctrine does not apply in Hague Convention cases; thus, Mothers behavior is not relevant and does not excuse Fathers wrongful taking. In dissent, Judge Aldisert would have found guidance in cases approving application of other equitable doctrines, such as waiver and fugitive disentitlement doctrine, in Hague Convention cases and sees no reason why equitable doctrine of unclean hands should not also apply. Judge Aldisert would have applied that doctrine and reversed District Courts grant of Mothers petition, describing it as “her latest effort to make American courts the instrumentalities of her inequitable conduct.”