An Award of Attorney Fees Against a Joined Party May Be Proper

Wife’s divorce attorney successfully petitioned the court who joined the partnership and corporation (third parties) of which husband was part owner in a divorce action. Wife, through her divorce attorney, alleged she had a community property interest in 23 parcels of property on which her name appeared on title. Third parties alleged that they owned the properties.

The third party corporation and partnership made numerous unsuccessful procedural maneuvers in the divorce action, including attempts to block discovery in the family law action. The divorce court awarded wife’s divorce attorney $100,000 in fees pendente lite from the third parties and $100,000 from Husband. (Ultimately, at trial, the family law court determined that Wife in fact had no interest in the 23 parcels.)

The Court of Appeal affirmed, holding fees could be awarded against joined third party, and it was not an abuse of discretion to do so. The Court noted that fees against the joined third parties were particularly proper given that there seemed to be a likelihood of wife’s success on the merits in the divorce. However, in considering this reasoning, the Court of Appeal in Marriage of Bendetti (2013) 214 Cal.App.4th 863 explained that “there is no requirement that a party to a dissolution proceeding demonstrate a likelihood that he or she will prevail in his or her claim against a third party to be entitled to attorney fees pendent lite.” Id. At 871.

In re Marriage of Siller (1986) 187 Cal.App.3d 36