Depending on the circumstances, it’s not all that unusual for one spouse to pay for the other’s legal expenses. In years past, many husbands expressed dismay that they were stuck with paying for their divorce. These days, the decision comes with gender-neutral consideration. So, what’s the big deal here? Why did the court order a wife to pay her husband’s attorney’s fees?
Notably, the parties in Holleman v. Holleman were already divorced at the time the Court of Appeals entered their decision on May 30, 2019. The case stems from a post-judgment action.
According to the case history. James. V. Holleman and Barbara J. Holleman divorced on October 5, 2006. James filed the divorce complaint based on irreconcilable differences. In the alternative, he cited inappropriate marital conduct.
The final judgment of divorce included a Marital Dissolution Agreement (MDA), which was signed by both parties. Among other things, the MDA provided directives concerning the sale of real property, considered part of the marital estate.
It only took four months before the formerly married couple were in back in court. James claimed Barbara refused to comply with the sale of the property. He wanted his ex-wife held in contempt.
Fast forward to April 2010. This time Barbara filed a petition. She claimed James rented the marital property for less than its worth. And, failed to share rental income with her. Barbara also alleged that James modified the Deed of Trust without notifying her.
Meanwhile, there was more. Barbara informed the court that James hadn’t disclosed all his assets when she agreed to execute the MDA.
Parties Back and Forth in Court
As the Holleman’s court saga continued, Barbara wanted James found in contempt. She also wanted both compensatory and punitive damages. Although she asked for damages to punish her former husband, she didn’t request invalidation of the MDA.
Ultimately, the trial court conducted a four-day hearing. The judge pointed out that it took Barbara over three years to question the MDA and outlined the charges of fraud. Ultimately, the court explained the reasons for ruling against Barbara. However, she was awarded a portion of the rental income.
Motions continued, with Barbara asking for the trial court judge to recuse himself. She claimed the judge showed bias against her and her former attorney.
When the trial court judge denied the recusal request, Barbara filed a motion for reconsideration. This was denied as well.
On September 26, 2012, the court directed the parties to follow the MDA concerning the sale of the marital property. The judge also set a deadline for both Barbara and James as far as selecting a realtor.
Although the court opinion doesn’t list them all, Barbara filed various motions. By July 16, 2014, the court made note of the fact that Barbara represented herself. The court denied yet another motion requesting recusal.
Wife Represented Self and Ordered to Pay Husband’s Attorney’s Fees
As the matter continued, the parties returned to court on numerous occasions. The judge pointed out procedural errors, as well as ones related to jurisdiction.
Finally, in August of 2016, the trial court entered a recusal order, stating that “the Court’s recusal may serve to facilitate the reaching of the merits on any issues that may come before the Court.”
A year later, Barbara wrote a handwritten note requesting that the new judge agree to recusal. In response, the court remarked on the “staggering serial filings” made by Barbara.
More motions continued. When Barbara was not happy with the court’s decisions, she ultimately appealed. Again, she did so while representing herself.
James responded by calling the appeal frivolous and requested attorney’s fees. In the end, the Appeals Court remanded the matter to the trial court to determine a reasonable amount for attorney’s fees.