The Michigan Court of Appeals ordered a mother to pay over $25,000 in attorney fees and costs in a contentious post-judgment child custody and parenting time case. Parents who think they can just willy-nilly waltz into court and/or who use and abuse child protective laws in an attempt to restrict access to children should think again. I've seen lots of abusive litigation before, but this one is really quite amazing.
The case involved Sean O’Farrell [“Father”] and Kelly O’Farrell [“Mother”]. They were divorced in December 2008. The judgment of divorce provided that Father and Mother would have joint legal custody of their minor child, who was two years old at the time. The judgment of divorce granted Mother physical custody of the child until further order of the court and ordered an extensive, detailed parenting-time schedule. The fact that the PT schedule was extensive and detailed indicates that Father’s lawyer perceived the need for this—that there was already contention. No doubt! Mother filed a motion in later March 2009—about four (4) months after the ink was dry on the judgment of divorce. She sought to suspend or to restrict Father’s parenting time.
Father responded to the motion and also filed a motion for a change of custody. There were thirteen hearings over a period of nearly two years. At the conclusion of the final hearing, the Court declined to restrict the father’s parenting time and, in fact, increased it.
In addition, the judge indicated that he was very close to finding the proofs sufficient to grant Father’s petition for a change in custody. The trial court ordered that Mother pay Father’s attorney $20,912 in fees and $3,555.86 in costs and reimburse Father’s $738 cost to the Guardian Ad Litem (GAL). The Court of Appeals affirmed.