In Richards v Richards, __ Mich App __; __ NW2d __ (2015) (Docket No. 319753), the Court of Appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part a Judgment of Divorce, ruling in favor of Sherri Richards, a client of the Speaker Law Firm, on all appealed issues. Slip op at 1, 10. Though the case involved a complex divorce and many issues on appeal, of particular import is the Court of Appeals' ruling on the issue of attorney's fees, which clarified that in divorce actions there are two independent bases for an award of attorney's fees under MCR 3.206: financial need or noncompliant action by the opposing party. Slip op at 9. In Richards, the trial court specifically found that the husband did not comply with the court's orders and that the violations “certainly caused confusion and extra time by all parties involved,” but because of the spousal support and property award denied attorney's fees to the wife. Slip op at 9. The Court of Appeals held that the trial court erred by failing to award attorney's fees because it conflated the two different bases. Slip op at 9. The Court of Appeals quoted the text of MCR 3.206(C), which uses the disjunctive term “or” between the two different bases for attorney's fees, which the Court of Appeals indicated shows the bases are a choice between two alternatives. Slip op at 8-9. In addition to the plain language of the Court Rule, the Court of Appeals also noted that the staff comments to the Court Rule state that MCR 3.206(C)(2)(b) (attorney's fees for noncompliance) is meant to “shift the costs associated with wrongful conduct to the party engaging in the improper behavior.” Slip op at 9. In the case of Richards, this meant remanding to the trial court for a determination of attorney's fees based on the husband's repeated noncompliance. Slip op at 10.
The Court of Appeals indicated that it has seen the problem in the past where trial courts conflate the two bases for attorney's fees. Slip op at 9. Therefore, it wanted to use this case as an opportunity to clarify the issue. Slip op at 9. Hopefully, this clarification will help provide relief for wronged parties in divorce actions.
Labels: appellate, attorney fees, attorney's fees, attorneys fees, Court of Appeals, Court Rule, divorce judgment, financial need, judgment of divorce, MCR 3.206, noncompliance, Richards, violation, wronged parties