On December 7, 2017, the Michigan Court of Appeals issued an opinion regarding a father’s claim for attorney fees in a Michigan family law case. In the case of Girdis v. Girdis, the mother took an appeal of the trial court’s ruling granting the father attorney fee. The award of attorney fees was in response to the mother’s involvement in filing a false Child Protective Services report against the father.
The parties divorced in 2010 and parenting time was equally awarded. However, the parties remained litigious over parenting time disputes which resulted in litigation in 2016. During a parenting time exchange at McDonald’s the parties engaged in a verbal altercation and the mother filed a CPS report with allegations against the father – falsely accusing the father of sexually abusing their child.
During the parenting time hearing, the trial court granted father parenting time and awarded him attorney fees. The mother appealed. The court of appeals noted that there was no evidence that the father abused the minor child but overturned the trial court’s award of attorney fees.
Attorney fees under MCR 3.206
A trial court has authority to award attorney fees under court rule. Michigan Court Rule (“MCR”) 3.206(C) applies to domestic relations proceedings and provides that, upon a party’s request, the trial court may award attorney fees and costs where (a) the requesting “party is unable to bear the expense of the action, and . . . the other party is able to pay,” MCR 3.206(C)(2)(a), or where (b) “the attorney fees and expenses were incurred because the other party refused to comply with a previous court order, despite having the ability to comply,” MCR 3.206(C)(2)(b).
The Court of Appeals overturned the trial court’s award of attorney fees to the father because they concluded that the father did not provide any evidence to the trial court of his own financial hardships or plaintiff’s ability to pay defendant’s attorney fees. “Accordingly, defendant was not entitled to attorney fees under MCR 3.206(C)(2)(a). Regarding MCR 3.206(C)(2)(b), defendant did not allege that plaintiff’s alleged filing of a false CPS allegation was in violation of any court order.”
Attorney fees under MCR 2.114
A trial court can also award attorney fees in a domestic relations action under MCR 2.114. MCR 2.114(D) provides that the “signature of an attorney or party constitutes a certification” that the signor has read the document, that the signor believes the document is well-grounded in fact and warranted under the law, and that “the document is not interposed for any improper purpose.” Under MCR 2.114(E), a trial court may order sanctions, including attorney fees and expenses, for a party or attorney’s violation of MCR 2.114(D). Under MCR 2.114(F), “a party pleading a frivolous claim or defense is subject to costs as provided in MCR 2.625(A)(2).”
The Court of Appeals held that MCR 2.114 was not supported by the evidence because the false CPS report was not a “signed” court pleading.
It would seem under the facts of this case that justice would require a sanction against the mother for filing a false CPS report. However, it appears the lawyers did not provide adequate evidentary support and justice was likely not served.
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By: Daniel Findling