Mother and Father were divorced in 2002, but continued with court appearances
regarding support and custody of their children, attorneys’ fees
and sanctions (a legal punishment for bad behavior).
Mother’s father is rich and he testified in court that he was providing
Mother with the money needed to pay her attorneys’ fees. Every month
Mother’s attorneys would send him a bill for her attorney’s
fees, and he would pay it. So far, he had paid her attorneys over $400,000.
He said that she would inherit over $6 million from his estate when he
died. He stated that the money he spent on her attorneys’ fees would
be deducted from her inheritance.
Father remarried, and so far he and his current wife also have spent approximately
$400,000 in attorneys’ fees fighting Mother’s attorneys. Father
argued that Mother should have to reimburse him for his attorneys’
fees, either because Mother was playing “court games” to bankrupt
Father, or because Father did not have the funds to fight for his legal
rights and Mother had access to the funds to pay his attorneys’
fees to do so.
The trial court agreed with Father and awarded Father and current wife
about $275,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs to be paid for by Mother.
Mother appealed arguing that she did not have the money to pay Father’s
attorneys’ fees, because her attorneys’ fees were paid for
by her father as gifts to her.
The Appellate Court agreed with the trial court. Mother must pay the $275,000
to Father’s attorneys.
In California, if one party does not have sufficient funds to try a divorce
case, and the other party has money, the court can order the party with
money to pay for the other party’s attorney. Section 2030 of the
Family Code requires that the trial court “…ensure that each
party has access to legal representation ... by ordering, if necessary
based on the income and needs assessments, one party ... to pay to the
other party, or to the other party’s attorney, whatever amount is
reasonably necessary for attorneys’ fees and for the cost of maintaining
or defending the proceeding during the pendency of the proceeding.”
The only question in this case was whether Mother’s gifts from her
father could be used as income to pay Father’s attorneys’
fees In this case it. The Appellate Court stated, “…In analogous
family law contexts, courts have held that 'where a party receives
recurring gifts of money, the trial court has discretion to consider that
money as income.'”