California Court Discusses Sanctions in Divorce Actions

Under California law, the courts can impose sanctions in divorce cases to discourage behavior that hinders the resolution of disputes and unnecessarily prolongs court proceedings. Such sanctions must warranted, though, otherwise, they may be vacated. In a recent California divorce action in which the wife appealed a sanctions order against her, the court explained the grounds for issuing such sanctions, ultimately finding that they were appropriate. If you are considering ending your marriage, it is important to understand your options, and you should meet with a Bay Area divorce attorney promptly.

History of the Case

It is alleged that the parties were married and subsequently divorced. In November 2019, the wife filed a request to modify spousal support, which was set at zero, claiming she had monthly expenses exceeding her income. The wife also requested the division of a business asset, which the husband argued was his separate property, and sought attorney fees and sanctions.

It is reported that the parties agreed to participate in a voluntary settlement conference before a judge, who subsequently ordered them to file settlement conference briefs and waivers, consenting to his role in the settlement conference. The husband filed his waiver and consent as required, but the wife did not. Despite this, the wife proceeded to file her voluntary settlement conference brief without raising any objections. Unfortunately, the parties failed to reach a settlement agreement during the conference.

It is stated that the case proceeded to a three-day evidentiary hearing. After careful consideration, the judge issued a written ruling denying all of the wife’s requests. Importantly, he also determined that she should be sanctioned under section 271, with the exact amount to be determined later. The wife appealed the sanctions order.

Sanctions in Divorce Actions

On appeal, the wife challenged the imposition of sanctions under Section 271, which allows the court to award attorney’s fees and costs based on the conduct of each party or attorney in promoting settlement and reducing litigation costs. The wife’s primary argument is that she never consented to the judge serving as both the settlement judge and the hearing officer for her case, making his subsequent order null and void.

The court found, however, that the wife forfeited her challenge on the grounds of lack of consent because she participated in the voluntary settlement conference and filed a settlement conference brief without objection. She also did not object to the judge serving as the hearing officer when the settlement failed. The court also ruled that the judge was not obligated to recuse himself, and his participation in settlement discussions was not a disqualifying factor.

Further, the court noted that the record did not show an abuse of discretion in the Section 271 sanctions order against the wife. Instead, it showed that she did not dispute the findings that her requests lacked merit, and she made false statements under oath, which needlessly prolonged court proceedings and increased litigation costs. Thus, the court affirmed the trial court ruling.

Meet with a Capable California Divorce Attorney

Divorce cases can be both legally and emotionally challenging. If you are weighing whether to end your marriage, it is smart to meet with an attorney to determine what measures you can take to protect your rights. The capable divorceattorneys of Bay Area Family Law Center can assess the facts of your case and aid you in pursuing a just resolution. You can reach us through our online form or by calling us at 925-258-2020 to set up a conference.

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