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Joinder of Attorney in a Family Law Matter Was Mandatory When Making Orders Re: Validity of Family Law Attorney Real Property Lien (FLARPL)

As security for her attorney’s fees due to her former divorce lawyer, wife executed a $60,000 family law attorney’s real property lien (FLARPL) against the community property residence. Husband was later awarded the community property residence in a divorce settlement, subject to all encumbrances. The husband’s divorce attorney then filed an action to force the wife’s former divorce attorney to remove the deed of trust from the house, claiming he had no notice of it. The wife’s divorce lawyer had failed to serve husband’s divorce lawyer.  The divorce court ordered the FLARPL removed. The order was not served on wife’s divorce attorney.

The wife’s former divorce lawyer later sued wife for unpaid fees and learned for the first time about the FLARPL family law order.  Wife’s former divorce lawyer moved to be joined to that action and to set aside the family law order removing the FLARPL. Both husband and wife, through their respective divorce lawyers, opposed. The divorce court joined the wife’s former divorce attorney, but refused to set aside the previous family law order, stating that it had no authority to overrule another divorce judge. The wife’s current divorce attorney was ordered to release the lien.

The wife’s former divorce lawyer filed a timely appeal.

The Court of Appeal reversed and held that the attorney was an indispensable party to Husband’s motion for an order vacating the FLARPL, and thus joinder was required before the attorney’s rights under the FLARPL could be adjudicated. (Code Civ. Proc. § 389; Rules of Court rule 5.150 [now Cal. Rules of Court, rule 5.24].) The Court of Appeal explained that because the attorney was not joined as an indispensable party, or even notified of the proceeding, she thus could not be compelled to give up her interest in the FLARPL. The wife’s former divorce attorney was effectively denied due process by the failure to join her.

In re Marriage of Ramirez (2011) 198 Cal.App.4th 336,345