I have recently blogged about the need for courts to award counsel fees when a party successfully enforces an agreement or an Order. As noted, all too often, court’s do not award counsel fees, or when then do, the award is not the entire amount of fees incurred. This potentially empowers to wrong doer because there is no ramifications to their non-compliance.
That issue arose in the unreported (non-precedential) opinion in the case of Bello v. Bello decided on April 1, 2011. After the parties’ divorce, the wife was forced to file 5 post-judgment enforcement applications. She was successful and was awarded fees for each. However, at the fifth motion, she was only awarded $1000 because the trial judge "stated that "I don’t want to cut off support for the [wife] in favor of counsel fees." The wife unsuccessfully sought reconsideration contending that the amount was too low given the husband’s lavish lifestyle and significant assets. She then appealed.
The Appellate Division reversed and remanded the matter back to the trial court to determine the proper amount holding:
After carefully considering the entire record, we conclude that the judge’s reasoning for limiting counsel fees to $1000 contradicted his finding that the husband had a substantial income and several assets. The husband lives in a home worth $1,000,000 with a tennis court and swimming pool, drives a 2007 Mercedes sedan, owns two other cars, pays $1500 per month for his mortgage, is the sole proprietor of Mendham Eyecare business, earns more than $200,0001 a year, and refused to pay his child support and alimony obligations. In addition to finding that the husband had "plenty of resources to pay his obligations," the judge found that a review of the husband’s case information statement demonstrated "at least $14,000 of excess [money available]."
We therefore reverse because the judge’s finding that the husband cannot afford a fee greater than $1000 is "manifestly unsupported by or inconsistent with the competent, relevant and reasonably credible evidence."
Perhaps this decision will be a deterrent and ensure future compliance.