After initiating divorce proceedings, child custody for the parties’ two minor children was contentious from day one. The mother moved across the country with the children when they were still toddlers. Just months after a permanent custody order was entered, the mother petitioned the Court for sole legal and physical custody of the children, inexplicably requesting supervised visitation for the father. After three years of intense litigation and exhaustive settlement negotiations, the parties reached a comprehensive written settlement regarding custody, including provisions to resolve future custody matters through alternative dispute resolution. The day after the orders were entered by the Court, the mother repudiated them – and then fired her attorneys.
The mother never filed a motion to set aside the agreement, but eventually filed a document titled “Rescission of Signature and Agreement Affixed Thereto.” In it, she purported to rescind the original agreement. During the next year, the mother, according to the trial judge, “created a legal universe all her own. In this universe, [the mother] does what she wants when she wants. She does not follow the Permanent Order or the Court’s subsequent orders. She does not appear in Court. She does not accept the Court’s authority to make orders.”
The father filed a motion for sanctions against the mother, requesting attorney’s fees to cover the numerous motions necessitated to enforce the stipulated custody orders and to defend against the improper custody litigation commenced by the mother on the East Coast. After an uncontested trial on the father’s request for monetary sanctions and attorney’s fees, the Court ordered that the mother pay the father $552,153.28 pursuant to Family Code section 271. This sanctions award is the largest ever in California family law.
On appeal, the Court of Appeal of the State of California, Sixth Appellate District found that the mother put forth “completely and undeniably meritless arguments.”
In addition to affirming the original judgment, the court imposed sanctions against the mother and her attorneys of record, Kim M. Robinson and Richard Ducote. The mother was ordered to pay $15,000 and the attorneys $5,000 each.