Plaintiff and defendant married in 1998 and filed for divorce on May 31, 2014. The parties have two minor children and share joint legal and physical custody. In relevant part, both parties sought attorney fees from each other: defendant sought $45,500.00 in attorney fees and plaintiff sought $104,000.00.
Plaintiff testified that in 2014 she filed a tax return, but she was not employed as a W-2 employee between 2003 and 2014 because she was a stay-at-home mother.
Plaintiff gained employment at Michigan State University as a secretary, making $43,000.00. Plaintiff testified that she incurred a total of $120,949.71 in attorney fees, but she received a discount of $11,075.16 for paying her bill in full by a certain date. In order to pay off the bill and make payments on her home, plaintiff stated that she had to borrow substantial amounts of money from others and liquidate assets at a loss. Plaintiff testified that she was deposed a total of five times throughout the divorce action, and she spent three days in mediation.
However, defendant contended that plaintiff herself drove up costs by failing to produce necessary documents. Defendant particularly cited plaintiff’s failure to bring certain documents pertaining to her income to multiple depositions, although the notice defendant mailed for at least one of those depositions did not provide the full 28 days’ notice required by law.
Defendant’s attorney stated that the total fees incurred by both sides are far beyond what he usually sees in divorce cases. Regarding the reasonableness of five depositions, he testified that he has not conducted five depositions in an average divorce case in the last few years.
The trial court ultimately concluded that it was unreasonable for defendant to continue pursuing information about plaintiff’s income for the purpose of attorney fees. In particular, the trial court indicated that even with the excessive depositions and mediation, the case should have been resolved with 250 hours of attorney work at a rate of $300 an hour. The trial court awarded plaintiff $52,500.00 in attorney fees, and additionally sanctioned defendant $6,000.00 in favor of plaintiff for misconduct that caused plaintiff to incur unnecessary attorney fees.
The trial court concluded that defendant engaged in misconduct that caused plaintiff to incur unnecessary attorney fees. The trial court’s sanction was premised on defendant’s pursuit of the attorney fee issue.
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