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Burkons v. Beugen

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eighth District, Cuyahoga

June 6, 2019

ZACHARY B. BURKONS, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
STACY L. BEUGEN, Defendant-Appellant.

          Civil Appeal from the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas Domestic Relations Division Case No. DR-14-353374

          Kohrman Jackson & Krantz, L.L.P., and James L. Lane, for appellee.

          Stafford Law Co., L.P A., Joseph G. Stafford, and Nicole A Cruz, for appellant.

          JOURNAL ENTRY AND OPINION

          PATRICIA ANN BLACKMON, J.

         {¶ 1} Stacy L. Beugen ("wife") appeals from the judgment entry awarding her $5, 000 on her motion for attorney fees in her divorce from Zachary B. Burkons ("husband"). The wife assigns the following error for our review:

The Trial Court erred as a matter of law and abused its discretion in failing to award [wife] the full amount of her attorney fees and litigation expenses incurred in this matter.

         {¶ 2} Having reviewed the record and the controlling case law, we affirm the decision of the trial court.

         (¶ 3} The parties were married in 2001 and had three children. In 2014, the husband filed for divorce. The matter proceeded in an extremely contentious manner. In April 2018, the parties resolved most of their issues in an agreed judgment entry but did not resolve attorney fee claims that were submitted to the court on "affidavits and short briefs."

         {¶ 4} The husband filed a post-decree motion seeking $5, 135 attorney fees from the wife. The husband asserted that he incurred a total of $202, 608 in fees and costs and has an outstanding balance of $119, 179. He conceded that generally, each party should bear responsibility for their own fees, but he maintained that the wife's failure to comply with discovery caused him to incur $5, 135 in additional fees.

         {¶ 5} The wife filed a motion for attorney fees in which she asked the court to award her $197, 000, the total amount of fees she had incurred since the 2014 filing of the case. The wife outlined for the court that her present attorney has billed her $142, 475, and she has paid $54, 154 of this sum. She owes her previous attorney $11, 707, and owes her original attorney $37, 520. There is an outstanding balance of $137, 549. The wife maintained that the attorney fees were due to the husband's improper discovery requests and refusal to resolve issues. She also cited the parties' disparate incomes, noting that he earns $152, 000 per year, and she earns $72, 000 per year.

         {¶ 6} On August 20, 2018, the trial court denied the husband's request for attorney fees and awarded the wife $5, 000 out of the total $197, 000 that she requested. In relevant part, the court reaffirmed the propositions that attorney fees are not "automatic," and that attorney fees are the responsibility of the party who retains the attorney. The court also noted that "[the wife] has the ability to pay her own attorney fees."

         {¶ 7} We review a post-decree award of attorney fees for an abuse of discretion. Wojanowski v. Wojanowski, 8th Dist. Cuyahoga No. 103695, 2017-Ohio-11, ¶ 15, citing Cutter v. Cutter, 8th Dist. Cuyahoga No. 96375, 2012-Ohio-358, ¶ 26. An abuse of discretion "connotes more than an error of law or judgment; it implies that the court's attitude is unreasonable, arbitrary or unconscionable." Blakemore v. Blakemore, 5 Ohio St.3d 217, 219, 450 N.E.2d 1140 (1983). Where there is some competent, credible evidence in the record to support the trial court's decision, there is no abuse of discretion. Trolli v. Trolli, 8th Dist. Cuyahoga No. 101980, 2015-Ohio-4487, ¶ 29, citing Kapadia v. Kapadia, 8th Dist. Cuyahoga No. 94456, 2011-Ohio-2255, ¶ 24.

         {¶ 8} Post-decree motions for attorney fees are governed by R.C. 3105.73, which provides in relevant part as follows:

(B) In any post-decree motion or proceeding that arises out of an action for divorce, dissolution, legal separation, or annulment of marriage or an appeal of that motion or proceeding, the court may award all or part of reasonable attorney's fees and litigation expenses to either party if the court finds the award equitable. In determining whether an award is equitable, the court may consider the parties' income, the conduct of the parties, ...

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