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Justices affirm attorney fees award in domestic arbitration

October 16, 2015

A trial court ruling ordering an ex-husband to pay his ex-wife’s legal fees in a divorce settled under the Family Law Arbitration Act was affirmed Friday by the Indiana Supreme Court.

Justices affirmed the order of arbitrator Linda Chrzan approved by Allen Superior Judge Charles F. Pratt in Robert A. Masters v. Leah Masters, 02S04-1504-DR-156. Robert Masters had challenged only that portion of the order requiring him to pay $95,000 of his ex-wife’s legal bills in the matter.

The Court of Appeals earlier reversed the trial court, but Justice Brent Dickson wrote the three-judge panel applied the wrong standard of review.

"In the appellate review of an award under the Family Law Arbitration Act, the proper standard of review is not the narrow, highly deferential standard prescribed by the Uniform Arbitration Act but rather the same standard of appellate review that applies to trial court decisions in marriage dissolution cases with entered findings of fact and conclusions of law — the clearly erroneous standard prescribed by Indiana Trial Rule 52(A),” Dickson wrote for the court.

“In this case, the family law arbitrator's award satisfies that standard. The husband has failed to establish that the award of attorney's fees is not supported by the arbitrator's findings.  We are not persuaded to a firm conviction that a mistake has been made, which is required for clear error. The attorney's fees award is not clearly erroneous and the judgment entering the arbitration award is hereby affirmed.”  

 
 
 

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