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DIVORCE 13: Attorney fees awarded as a result of the other’s party’s unreasonable conduct

Plaintiff filed a complaint for divorce in 2009, and resulted in extensive legal proceedings that have continued relatively unabated for nine years.  The parties continue to dispute over matters of custody and parenting time relating to their three minor children

Plaintiff challenges the trial court’s award of attorney fees and costs totaling $26,579.50, payable to defendant and the Oakland Circuit Court Clerk, under MCR 3.206(C)(2)(b), as a result of plaintiff’s violation of specified orders of the trial court and unreasonable conduct.

Defendant sought an award of costs and attorney fees in excess of $152,000 on multiple grounds, including his asserted financial need under MCR 3.206(C)(2)(a), plaintiff’s violation of the trial court’s orders under MCR 3.206(C)(2)(b), and as sanctions related to various pleadings and filings under MCR 2.114(E).

The trial court denied any fees and costs to defendant premised on financial need. The trial court further determined that certain of defendant’s requests for attorney fees under MCR 3.206(C)(2)(b) were not warranted or proven. The trial court ultimately awarded $21,087 to defendant based on the fees charged by trial attorney X, $4,492.50 based on the fees charged by Y, and $1,000 in sanctions to the Oakland County Clerk’s Office to be paid by plaintiff or her attorneys. The trial court denied reconsideration of its order.

An appeal followed. Plaintiff argues that the trial court erred by determining that defendant was entitled to an award of attorney fees under MCR 3.206(C)(2)(b).

Attorney fees under MCR 3.206(C)(2)(b) may be authorized when the requesting party has been forced to incur expenses as a result of the other’s party’s unreasonable conduct in the course of litigation.

The trial court awarded defendant attorney fees and costs incurred for having to respond to plaintiff’s filing of a complaint for divorce in the Washtenaw Circuit Court in February 2016. A judgment of divorce had already been entered by the Oakland Circuit Court in 2011. That divorce judgment included provisions recognizing that the Oakland Circuit Court had jurisdiction over the matter.

The appeals court agreed with the trial court that plaintiff’s conduct in filing for divorce in another county while the Oakland County divorce judgment was still in effect violated that judgment of divorce.

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