A published opinion out of Ventura County gives us insight into the consequences for failing to disclose financial information in a divorce.
John and Lisa got married in 19991. John filed for divorce in 2009. John has an ownership interests in several businesses owned by his family. During the marriage, John was the sole manager of these assets. Information regarding their value, income stream and possible community ownership is solely within his knowledge. It is undisputed that John has substantial income and assets derived from his family’s businesses. How substantial? Lisa has been unable to discover.
Lisa sent out to two sets of demand for production of documents to John. John failed to adequately respond. Motions to compel were necessary, and a discovery referee was even appointed (which is fairly rare in a family law case). At a deposition John failed to bring any of the documents and records he was obligated to produce.
By this time John’s game playing had created attorney’s fees and costs for Lisa in excess of $200,000 (of which John had paid $47,734), while John had created attorney’s fees and costs for himself of more than $300,000. Lisa did not have any money to pay her attorney’s fees and costs so she filed a motion to have John pay them.
The trial court ordered John to pay Lisa’s attorney’s fees and costs of $200,000. John appealed, and the appeal got thrown out.
Section 2030, subdivision (a)(1) requires the trial court in a dissolution proceeding to ensure that each party has access to legal representation. If necessary, the trial court may order one party to pay the other party’s “reasonably necessary” attorney fees “based on the income and needs assessments” of the parties.
. . .
Where a party unlawfully withholds evidence of his income and assets, he will not be heard to complain that an order is not based on the evidence he refuses to disclose. If John wished the trial court to have considered all of the circumstances in making an attorney fee award, the simple solution would have lain in his own hands: disclose the information. But instead John closed the door to an appeal from the trial court’s order and threw away the key.
. . .
The disentitlement doctrine enables an appellate court to stay or to dismiss the appeal of a party who has refused to obey the superior court’s legal orders. (Say & Say v. Castellano (1994) 22 Cal.App.4th 88, 94.) “Dismissal is not ‘”a penalty imposed as a punishment for criminal contempt. It is an exercise of a state court’s inherent power to use its processes to induce compliance”‘ with a presumptively valid order.” (Ibid., quoting Stone v. Bach (1978) 80 Cal.App.3d 442, 446.) Thus, the disentitlement doctrine prevents a party from seeking assistance from the court while that party is in “an attitude of contempt to legal orders and processes of the courts of this state.” (MacPherson v. MacPherson (1939) 13 Cal.2d 271, 277.)
. . .
John’s refusal to comply with three separate court orders entitles this court to dismiss his appeal. With the information it had, the trial court did its best to award attorney fees and costs. The court was not required to wait until John decided whether he would comply with discovery orders.
The moral or this story? Don’t hide the ball on financial information. If you do it might fly back at you and hit you squarely between the eyes. Please click here for the original Hofer opinion.
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