Memorandum of Decision Re: Attorney Fees as Support

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Decisions
IN THE UNITED STATES BANKRUPTCY COURT FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA
In re NORMAN ARTHUR BARON,                                                           No. 93-12726        Debtor. ___________________________/ NORMAN ARTHUR BARON,        Plaintiff,     v.                                                                                                      A.P. No. 94-1033 SONIA BARON-VINE,        Defendant. ______________________________/
Memorandum of Decision
     Debtor and plaintiff Norman Arthur Vine is the former husband of Sonia Baron-Vine. Norman is a highly skilled physician. Sonia is disabled, with her only income $500 per month in Social Security benefits. Her primary occupation is caring for the three children of the marriage, one of which has medical problems.      During their marital dissolution proceedings in state court, Norman was ordered to pay Sonia $100,000.00 in attorneys' fees. The primary reason the state court gave for awarding the fees was Norman's egregious conduct during the proceedings. Not only did he refuse to cooperate, but he violated numerous court orders and committed perjury. He was cited for contempt numerous times, and was jailed on at least one occasion. As something of an afterthought, the court also based its ruling on Sonia's need.      The issue now before the court is whether the attorneys' fee award is nondischargeable. Ironically, Norman raises his own egregious conduct as grounds for dischargeability. To the extent the fees were awarded on the basis of Sonia's need, they are nondischargeable. However, to the extent that the fees were awarded against Norman as a sanction, they are not support and not nondischargeable under section 523(a)(5) of the Bankruptcy Code. In re Gionis, 170 B.R. 675, 681-82 (9th Cir.BAP 1994).      After hearing all of the circumstances, there is no doubt that the fees were awarded on the basis of Sonia's need. The state court was obviously frustrated with Norman's conduct, and wished to penalize him. However, it appears that what the court intended to say was that even if Sonia did not have the need, it would award the fees as a sanction so that there was no necessity to hold a lengthy hearing on her needs. It is clear that Sonia was in dire need.      At the time of the state court hearing, Sonia and the children had already suffered periods of extreme deprivation due to Norman's failure to pay support. They had been evicted from their apartment and Sonia's car had been repossessed. Although Sonia had married the man who took her and her children in when he found them destitute, he made only a very modest income and was not able to support them without borrowing money from his father. Even though Norman had intentionally reduced his income significantly, there was still a great disparity between his income and Sonia's.      For the foregoing reasons, the court finds that the attorneys' fee order was based on Sonia's need and is accordingly nondischargeable. Judgment shall be entered accordingly. Sonia shall also recover her costs of suit.
Dated: March 27, 1995                                                                                                       _______________________                                                                                                                                                          Alan Jaroslovsky                                                                                                                                                          U.S. Bankruptcy