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California Court Confirms $62,000 Sanction against Husband for Divorce Case Shenanigans – In re Marriage of O’Connell

In divorce cases, as in life, honesty is the best policy. Not only does being completely forthright help ease some of the bitterness and acrimony that can arise when a couple decides to split, it can also help speed up the divorce process by narrowing the focus of any litigation or negotiation to real issues instead of wasting time on playing “he said, she said.” If that’s not enough reason, consider this:  distorting the facts and refusing to play nice in a divorce proceeding can also cost you money in the form of sanctions and attorney fees. A recent case out of California’s Fourth District Court of Appeals is a good example.

wooden-box-1228830-mWife filed for divorce from Husband in February 2005, after more than 21 years of marriage. The couple reconciled later that year, however, and lived together for the next five years. According to the court, Husband and Wife filed joint tax returns, slept in the same room, took vacations together, and otherwise had “normal marital relations” during this time. They also had a variety of work done to improve the family’s home. Nevertheless, Wife filed for divorce again in 2010.

After a three-day hearing to resolve various property distribution and spousal support issues, a trial judge ordered Husband to pay Wife nearly $62,000 in sanctions related to his actions during the divorce proceedings. The court also forced Husband to pony up $25,000 to cover some of Wife’s attorney’s fees. The judge noted that Husband refused to provide certain financial documents during the discovery process and said he breached a fiduciary duty by withdrawing money from community banking accounts from 2005 to 2010 without notifying Wife.

The trial judge explained that the attorney’s fees award was intended to cover the costs of litigation created by Husband’s refusal to make financial records available and various efforts to conceal property and income. “The record reveals a case of stunning complexity due to husband’s intransigence,” the judge said. “The dilatory and uncooperative conduct justifies the award made.”

Affirming the decision on appeal, the Fourth District held that the trial court didn’t abuse its discretion in issuing the sanctions and fees award. The Court explained that Section 2040(a)(2) of the California Family Code makes clear that the parties to a divorce are automatically barred from disposing of community assets without the other party’s permission. Similarly, Section 1100 of the Code imposes a fiduciary duty on a spouse who controls community property at the time when the divorce petition is filed. Finally, the Court observed that Section 2100 of the Code obligates each spouse to make full and accurate financial disclosures throughout the course of a divorce proceeding.

Although the couple reconciled shortly after Wife filed the first divorce petition, the Court said that didn’t eliminate Husband’s fiduciary duty and the statutory restriction on his ability to dispose of community property without Wife’s permission during the five years before she refiled for divorce. Indeed, the Court noted that the trial court issued an order shortly after the original separation in which it clearly stated Husband’s fiduciary duties. That order was never revoked during the reconciliation period, according to the Fourth District.

As this case makes clear, the best strategy in a divorce case is to be as open and honest as possible. If you’re considering seeking a divorce in California, contact San Jose divorce lawyer John S. Yohanan. With more than 30 years of experience, Mr. Yohanan is an accomplished family law attorney who has helped a number of clients resolve a wide variety of issues on optimal terms. Call our office at (408) 297-0700 or contact us online to schedule a consultation.

Related blog posts:

How Slowing Down a California Divorce Case Could Cost You – In re Marriage of Bell

Income and Spousal Support in California Divorce Cases – In re Marriage of Whalen

Service of Process Snafu Slows Annulment Case – In re Marriage of Herrera and Wiebe