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The California Appellate Court recently decided a case on the nature of sanctions in a divorce case. You may have heard of the term sanctions in reference to a lawsuit. The general meaning of the term is a monetary punishment for violating some rule. The Family Code, the California laws relating specifically to divorce, among other things, includes a very specific section relating to sanctions. That section is Family Code § 271.
The text of Family Code § 271 says:
(a) Notwithstanding any other provision of this code, the court may base an award of attorney’s fees and costs on the extent to which the conduct of each party or attorney furthers or frustrates the policy of the law to promote settlement of litigation and, where possible, to reduce the cost of litigation by encouraging cooperation between
the parties and attorneys. An award of attorney’s fees and costs pursuant to this section is in the nature of a sanction. In making an award pursuant to this section, the court shall take into consideration all evidence concerning the parties’ incomes, assets, and liabilities. The court shall not impose a sanction pursuant to this section that imposes an unreasonable financial burden on the party against whom the sanction is imposed. In order to obtain an award under this section, the party requesting an award of attorney’s fees and costs is not required to demonstrate any financial need for the award.
(b) An award of attorney’s fees and costs as a sanction pursuant to this section shall be imposed only after notice to the party against whom the sanction is proposed to be imposed and opportunity for that party to be heard.
(c) An award of attorney’s fees and costs as a sanction pursuant to this section is payable only from the property or income of the party against whom the sanction is imposed, except that the award may be against the sanctioned party’s share of the community property.
On December 21, 2016, the California Appellate Court specified that sanctions must be related directly to attorney’s fees and costs. The name of the case is Sagonowsky v. Kekoa, Jr. The case was an appeal from an order of Family Code § 271 sanctions against wife, Christina Sagonowsky, after a long, drawn out post-divorce judgment dispute that the trial court called a “litigation war.”
During the “litigation war,” Sagonowski delayed the sale of property, refused to release lis pendens that encumbered property, and sought numerous continuances to delay a judicial resolution of the disputes. It was alleged that Sagonowsky scared off buyers for a particular property, resulting in the property selling for $180,000 less.
At trial on the issue, Sagonowski was ordered to pay Kekoa, Jr. $767,781.23, for:
The $180,000.00 reduction of the sales price of the property;
$17,997.17 in attorney’s fees specifically to release deeds and appoint an elisor;
$18,549.06 in attorney’s fees related to a motion to recover rents;
$6,235.00 in attorney’s fees to prepare the sanctions motion;
$45,000.00 in interest on Kekoa, Jr.’s attorney’s bill for fees;
And $5000,000.00 for “relentless and culpable conduct” in driving “up the cost of litigation against Kekoa” and “purposely frustrating the final settlement . . . .”
But, the Court of Appeal said that the $500,000 and $180,000 components were not allowed and the trial court made an error in this respect. The amounts for rents and the amounts for general “relentless and culpable conduct” did not bear a relationship to attorney’s fees and costs.
Thus, it is important that any request demonstrates a relationship between the amount requested and the attorney’s fees and costs expended.
Please contact the Law Offices of Scott Family Law by calling 858-974-4900 to schedule a consultation appointment with Mr. Scott today. Attorney Scott Family Law, CFLS, has been practicing in San Diego County, California, since 1981. Mr. Scott is a Certified Family Law Specialist with many years of experience on all family law matters.