IN THE UNITED STATES BANKRUPTCY COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA
|DO NOT PUBLISH
This case disposition has no value as precedent and is not intended for publication. Any publication, either in print or electronically, is contrary to the intent and wishes of the court.
NORMAN ARTHUR BARON, No. 93-12726
NORMAN ARTHUR BARON,
v. A.P. No. 94-1033
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 _______________________