Davis v. Petito, 2012

Joanna Davis v. Michael A. Petito, Jr., No. 30, September Term 2011

FAMILY LAW – CHILD CUSTODY – AWARD OF ATTORNEYS’ FEES UNDER SECTION 12-103 OF THE FAMILY LAW ARTICLE

The Court of Appeals held that consideration that one party was represented on a pro bono basis, in order to award attorneys’ fees under Section 12-103 of the Family Law Article, Maryland Code (1984, 2006 Repl. Vol.), to the other party, who retained private counsel, was erroneous. The Court ordered that the case be remanded to the Circuit Court for reconsideration of the attorneys’ fees award according to the statutory factors of Section 12-103(b) and (c).

Question presented:  “In determining an award of costs and attorney’s fees in a custody case, Family Law Article § 12-103(b)(2) of the Maryland Code requires the courts to consider, inter alia, the financial status and needs of each party. In assessing the parties’ financial status and needs, and ultimately ordering the Mother to pay $30,773.54 of the Father’s legal expenses, was it appropriate for the lower court to consider the fact that the Mother was represented pro bono and to disregard her day-today financial needs, particularly as they relate to caring for the Child?”

The Court“We shall hold that the consideration that one party was represented on a pro bono basis, in order to award attorneys’ fees to the other party who had retained counsel was erroneous under Section 12-103, and we shall order a remand to the trial court for reconsideration of the statutory factors in light of this opinion.”

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