Aesop and Appeals Court Agree: Be Careful What You Wish For

By Robyn Hagan Cain on October 23, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

If we're ever a litigant in a California appellate case, we hope that the judge doesn't begin the opinion with some kind of condescending life lesson like, "If ever there was a case where the adage 'be careful what you wish for' applied, this is surely it."

Losing a case that begins with an Aesop shoutout sounds miserable.

Jeffrey Barth understands that all too well, thanks to this Fourth Appellate District case.

Jeffrey Barth spent years resisting Andrea Barth's attempt to litigate their divorce and child custody issues in Ohio, even appealing to the Ohio Supreme Court. That court agreed with Jeffrey and concluded the Ohio courts lacked jurisdiction because Andrea had not lived in Ohio for six months immediately prior to filing her divorce action.

But Jeffrey's Ohio divorce jurisdiction win backfired. The California trial court, pursuant to Family Code section 4009 granted Andrea's request for child support retroactive to the date Jeffrey had originally filed his California divorce action, with credit given for the amounts Jeffrey paid under the now-void Ohio order.

The support Jeffrey was ordered to pay was significantly higher than the amount the Ohio trial court had ordered.

Jeffrey offered a number of arguments to support his claim that the trial court abused its discretion by awarding retroactive child support. He said the court erroneously granted retroactive child support, (asserting that doing so constituted an equal protection violation). He argued the court erred by imputing income to him after it concluded that he had done everything possible to hide and minimize his income in order to shrink his support obligations.

The appellate court found that the equal protection argument lacked merit, and Jeffrey failed to establish an abuse of discretion on any other point. (It also noted, "There is simply no way to sugarcoat the extent to which the court concluded that Jeffrey lacked all credibility when it came to reporting financial matters.")

The court went on to say, "We find no abuse of discretion here. Indeed, the court's order was in line with exactly what Jeffrey had sought since the inception of this case -- jurisdiction in California, the application of California law, and the treatment of the Ohio orders as utterly void."

We're hesitant to join the judges on the smug opinion bandwagon, but they do have a point. Jeffrey probably would have been better off -- at least financially -- if he had resolved the case in Ohio. If you represent a client in a similar situation, make sure he knows that winning the battle in a divorce jurisdiction case could mean losing a financial war.

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