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.'”