March 21, 2012

New Case Law – Attorney Fee Awards in Family Law Cases

On January 25, 2012, the Oregon Court of Appeals decided Berry and Huffman. In this case, the former husband tried to modify his obligation to make payments under a stipulated judgment, and the former wife wished to enforce the terms of that judgment. The trial court awarded the wife her attorney fees incurred enforcing the judgment, justifying the award based on ORS 107.135(15) and ORS 107.135(8). The Court of Appeals stated that these statutes were not appropriate to support an award of attorney fees in this case. The court went on to state that ORS 107.135(8) may sometimes justify an award of attorney fees where the prevailing party was enforcing a judgment under 107.104 in the context of a modification under 107.135, “if the enforcement efforts are reasonably and materially related to the resolution of the modification dispute.” The court required a nexus between the enforcement issues and the modification issues which it did not find in this case. The court also found that ORS 107.105(1)(j), which allows attorney fees in judgments of dissolution, did not provide a basis for awarding attorney fees in an enforcement action.

The entire opinion can be found here.