Arizona Court of Appeals
Stickler v. Stickler
In Stickler v. Stickler, an unpublished memorandum decision, the Arizona Court of Appeals affirmed the family court’s division of property, but reversed its decision to deny a litigant’s request for attorney’s fees.
During the parties marriage, they owned a pharmacy and three rental properties. After Wife filed for divorce, the parties agreed to appoint a special master to handle the properties. Wife purchased one of the commercial properties, Husband purchased the other, and their residential rental property was sold to a third party.
The family court ordered Wife to pay temporary spousal maintenance of $750 per month and pay the mortgage and utilities associated with the marital home where Husband continued to live. It also ordered Wife to pay $5,000 toward Husband’s attorney’s fees.
Before final trial, the parties reached several agreements. The biggest outstanding issue was the value of the pharmacy business. Both parties hired experts to value the business. Wife’s expert valued it at $1,072,000, while Husband’s expert valued it at $1,693,565.
The family court adopted Wife’s valuation and ordered Wife to pay half to Husband to buyout his interest in the business. It denied Husband’s other property claims and his request for additional attorney’s fees.
Husband appealed and chiefly contested the property division. He unsuccessfully argued that the family court abused its discretion when it adopted Wife’s valuation, but the Court of Appeals found sufficient support for that decision in the record. The Court of Appeals also affirmed the other orders regarding property division.
The final issue Husband appealed was the denial of his request for additional attorney’s fees. In its decree, the family court concluded that there was no substantial disparity between the parties’ financial resources even though Wife’s affidavit of financial information indicated that she earned $13,971 per month while Husband’s reflected monthly earnings of just $1,025.
Pursuant to A.R.S. § 25-324, family courts may award attorney’s fees after considering the parties’ respective financial resources and the reasonableness of their positions. These decisions are totally discretionary; courts are not required to award attorney’s fees even when there is a financial disparity and/or a litigant maintains unreasonable positions.
So even though the error does not mandate an award, the issue was remanded to the family court for reconsideration.