Bresky Law Obtains Reversal of Fee Award Against Former Wife Awarded Based on Rejection of a Settlement Offer

Hallac v. Hallac
Case No. 4D10-4450

We represented a former wife in an appeal from the trial court’s order on opposing motions for attorney’s fees following trial. Early in the dissolution of marriage case, our client had rejected the former husband’s settlement offer and made a counteroffer. The case proceeded to trial and our client obtained a result less favorable than the former husband’s last settlement offer. Following trial, the trial court used our client’s refusal of the settlement offer as a basis to both deny our client her attorney’s fees for work after the refusal of the offer, and award the former husband his attorney’s fees incurred for the time period after our client rejected the offer. The trial court made the award despite the fact our client had virtually no income and the former husband had an annual income over $500,000 combined with substantial premarital assets.

On appeal, our firm argued that it was legal error for the trial court to use our client’s refusal of the settlement offer and the fact that she later obtained a less favorable result at trial as a basis to punish her in the attorney’s fee award. The Fourth DCA agreed in part. The Fourth DCA held that the trial court was allowed to deny our client her fees for her failure to accept the settlement offer because under Rosen v. Rosen, 696 So. 2d 697 (Fla. 1997), a trial court is allowed to consider settlement offers and the results obtained by a party in making an award of fees under section 61.16, Florida Statutes (2009). However, the Fourth DCA found that Former Husband had no “need” to support a statutory award of fees to him, and that our client’s conduct in refusing the settlement offer did not rise to the level of vexatious or bad faith conduct sufficient to support an award against her under the court’s inherent authority to prevent such conduct.

The Fourth DCA therefore reversed the award of fees to the Former Husband. This favorable result allows our client to obtain the fees she was awarded for work prior to her rejection of the settlement offer, free of the setoff resulting from the award to the Former Husband.
** [Note: At the time of this posting, the Fourth DCA mandate has not issued. The decision will not be final until disposition of any timely filed motion for rehearing. ] **