The Court of Appeals in Cave v. Scheulov, addressed and defined parameters in awarding attorney’s fees in Civil Protection Order (CPO) cases.

Specifically, Cave had filed a Petition for a CPO against her husband of thirteen years alleging physical abuse and assault, which was granted by the court.

Her claim for legal fees however was denied as the trial court had required that she first prove that the litigation was oppressive, burdensome or in bath faith as a condition precedent to awarding legal fees or before considering all other elements and factors.

Traditionally and particularly in divorce cases, the court has repeatedly outlined a two-factor analysis in awarding legal fees:

1. Whether to award a fee, which in turn would trigger:

  • Whether the litigation has been oppressive or burdensome to the party seeking the award, as well as
  • The motivation and behavior of the parties — whether there existed bad faith.

2. The amount of the fee to award, which would require following analysis:

  • The quality and nature of the services performed,
  • The necessity for the services,
  • The results obtained from the services, and
  • The financial ability of the spouse being ordered to pay.

The Court of Appeals applying the above legal elements to the CPO cases eliminated the first prong, that it, the requirement for first finding burdensome, oppressive or conduct in bath faith — and only focused on the second prong and analysis in awarding fees.

There are two reasons why the standard for award legal fees in CPO cases were lowered:

  1. The CPO Statute provides for grant of legal fees as long as: “there is good cause to believe the respondent has committed or threatened to commit a criminal offense.” C.Code § 16-1005(c)(8); and
  2. The important policy consideration that awarding counsel fees assists and encourages the domestic violence victims to overcome the financial obstacles and costs in initiating their cases and thus are not dissuaded or prevented from filing a CPO petition.

Thus, petitioner Cave was not obliged to prove any condition precedent such as oppressive, burdensome or bath faith litigation before the trial court was required to consider all other relevant factors in determining whether to award attorney’s fees in a CPO proceeding.   A simplified and streamlined process in awarding legal fees in CPO cases unlike other Domestic Relations Cases.

Please refer to our Washington DC Civil Protection Lawyer page for more details on this subject.

Categories: Family Law.