California courts operate under a system of procedural rules that are at least intended to help divorce and other cases proceed smoothly. That includes rules for discovery, the process by which parties exchange evidence and information in advance of a trial. If you mess with that process, you’re likely to get burned. That was the big takeaway from a recent ruling by the state’s Fourth District Court of Appeals.
When Wife filed for divorce from Husband in 2009, she asked a court to order Husband to pay her monthly spousal support to help Wife maintain the living standard she enjoyed during the marriage. The couple said they didn’t have any kids together at the time, and they agreed that certain houses should be considered each spouse’s separate property. A trial court ordered Husband to pay Wife $300 per month in spousal support. It seemed, for the time being, like the case was closed.
Things took a strange turn less than one year after the court issued the judgment, however. Wife went back to the judge in February 2011, alleging that Husband was in contempt for failing to make monthly support payments. Husband responded by informing the court that he’d learned after the judgment was issued that Wife had filed a separate claim for child support against him related to her son. The only problem, Husband said, was that the boy was already three years old when he and Wife first met. Husband said it cost him nearly $4,000 to prove that he wasn’t the father. The trial court decided to vacate its earlier judgement on the divorce and to open up the record for further proceedings.
The proceedings that followed were marred by Wife’s delays, miscommunications, and failures to comply with court orders, according to the Fourth District. She refused to respond to discovery requests for information, including those related to Husband’s claim that she might have still been married to another man when they got hitched. When she did respond, the Court said it was brief and frivolous. She also ignored requests by Husband’s lawyer to discuss resolving the matter out of court. The trial court eventually granted Husband’s request for discovery sanctions against Wife and her counsel in the amount of nearly $8,000 and entered a default judgement against Wife.
Affirming the decision on appeal, the Fourth District said the trial court didn’t err in issuing the sanctions and default judgment. “[W]hile it is true that an order imposing terminating sanctions is appropriate only in egregious circumstances, and a sanction order cannot go further than is necessary to accomplish the purpose of discovery, we cannot say the court abused its discretion here,” the Court said. “[Wife]’s continued obstreperousness…suggests that her real goal was simply to extend the fight with [Husband, rather than to win anything.”
If you’re considering divorce or are grappling with support and other issues in California, contact San Jose spousal support 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 marital disputes. Call our office at (408) 297-0700 or contact us online to schedule a consultation.
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