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The Court of Appeal in Orange County Held That a Party Need Not Prevail on All Issues in Order to Receive An Award of Attorney’s Fees From a Joined Party

Husband’s divorce lawyer filed for a divorce with his first wife (Jeanette). The parties owned an interest in two restaurants. The other owner of the restaurants agreed to buy couple’s interest in the restaurants. Husband was to be paid in a lump sum and Wife was to be paid over time.

Ten years after the Orange County divorce, Jeanette’s Orange County divorce attorney commenced efforts to recover unpaid spousal support from husband. During this effort, Jeanette learned of a lawsuit husband and his new wife were involved in regarding an investment in another restaurant. The husband’s new wife was a 25% partner in the venture. Husband contended the “real agreement” was between him and the other restaurant owner, not his new wife. Jeanette filed a lien in the pending Orange County litigation.

The litigation settled with a $7.25 million payment to husband’s new wife. Husband paid Jeanette’s outstanding support payments with money from the settlement. Jeanette’s divorce lawyer then moved to recover attorney’s fees from Husband. Husband’s Orange County divorce attorney claimed he had no assets and was only collecting monthly social security. Jeanette’s divorce lawyer joined husband’s new wife to the Orange County litigation. Jeanette’s Orange County divorce lawyer then sought attorney’s fees incurred while attempting to collect her outstanding support payments in addition to any fees relative to future litigation from husband’s new wife.

The divorce court granted fees to Jeanette’s Orange County divorce attorney. Husband’s new wife’s lawyer appealed the ruling contesting Jeanette’s showing of a likelihood of success on the merits and a questioning whether husband’s new wife even needed to be involved in the matter.

The Court of Appeal held that Jeanette’s Orange County divorce lawyer prevailed on some of her claims which related to her request for attorney’s fees. The Court of Appeal found there was sufficient evidence to show that there was an issue to be litigated surrounding whether husband invested community property from his previous marriage into the new restaurant as well as whether husband fraudulently transferred his interests in the restaurant to his new wife.

In re Marriage of Bendetti (2013) 214 Cal. App. 4th 863