Arizona Court of Appeals

Palanti v. Palanti

Summary

Palanti v. Palanti was an unpublished memorandum decision where the Arizona Court of Appeals affirmed the family court’s award of attorney’s fees and costs and dismissed a portion of the appeal that was untimely filed.

Background

After Wife filed for divorce in April 2018, the parties agreed that the marital residence was Husband’s separate property but did not agree to the amount of the Wife’s community lien interest. The parties also disputed Wife’s eligibility for spousal maintenance and the character of funds in several bank accounts.

Following an evidentiary hearing, the family court entered its decree of dissolution on March 11, 2019. The decree denied Wife’s claim for spousal maintenance; ordered Husband to pay to Wife an equalization payment for her share of the community lien against the marital residence; and directed Wife’s attorney to submit an application for an award of attorney’s fees based on its finding that Husband enjoyed “considerably more financial resources” than Wife. The decree was certified as final judgment.

A little more than two months later, after the parties briefed Wife’s claim for attorney’s fees, the family court entered another order where it granted Wife’s application for attorney’s fees.

Husband filed a motion for reconsideration of the attorney’s fees on May 29, 2019. After the motion was denied, Husband filed a notice of appeal on June 14, 2019 where he indicated that he intended to appeal “the final order … entered on 5/17/2019.”

Time to File Appeal

Husband’s opening brief challenged several aspects of the divorce decree and the award of attorney’s fees. Wife argued that his notice of appeal was filed too late to challenge the decree.

Pursuant to A.R.S. § 12-2101(A)(1), a party may appeal any final judgment entered by the family court. Any party who wishes to appeal must file a notice of appeal within thirty days of entry of the judgment to be appealed. Rule 78(b) provides that family courts may certify a judgment as a final appealable order, even if other issues or claims remain outstanding, whenever it “expressly determines there is no just reason for delay and recites that the judgment is entered under Rule 78(b).”

Here, the family court certified its decree entered on March 11, 2019, as a final appealable order. Because Husband’s notice of appeal was not filed within thirty days from this date, the Court of Appeals dismissed the portion of his appeal challenging the decree.

Attorney’s Fees and Costs

Pursuant to A.R.S. § 25-324(A), family courts may order a party to pay the other party’s attorney’s fees and costs after considering their respective financial resources and the reasonableness of their positions. Critically, either consideration is sufficient to support an award of attorney’s fees. The family court need not find that a financial disparity and unreasonableness. Conversely, even if the court finds both, it retains the discretion to decline to award any attorney’s fees.

Here, Husband argued that the family court failed to make findings under another subsection of the statute, A.R.S. 25-324(B). This section of the statute mandates an award of attorney’s fees when a petition (1) was not filed in good faith; (2) was not grounded in fact or law; or (3) was filed for an improper purpose. Because this section of the statute is independent from subsection (A), the family court was not required to make any additional findings to support its award of attorney’s fees.

Full decision