Family Law Corner: Bethenny Frankel: Skinnygirl Writes Fat Check

Bethenny Frankel, former daytime talk show host and star of “Bethenny Ever After” and “Real Housewives of New York,” and founder of Skinnygirl cocktails is still embroiled in a contentious divorce. After fighting more than a year over custody of their daughter and use of their lavish Tribeca penthouse, her husband, pharmaceutical account executive Jason Hoppy, asked a New York court to order Frankel to pay his attorney’s fees.  In May, Frankel was ordered to advance $100,000 toward Hoppy’s fees. It is likely this had to do with the financial circumstances of the couple:  Forbes reported that Frankel sold Skinnygirl to Jim Beam for over $100,000,000 and it is also reported that the couple had a premarital agreement that protected Frankel’s business interests.   

Like New York, California allows one party to seek attorney’s fees from the other based on their respective financial circumstances. Family Code § 2030(a) states that “a court shall ensure that each party has access to legal representation…by ordering, if necessary . . . one party . . . to pay to the other party, or to the other party's attorney, whatever amount is reasonably necessary for attorney's fees and for the cost of maintaining or defending the proceeding.”  In making this award, the Court must consider what is “just and reasonable under the relative circumstances of the respective parties.” See Fam. Code §2032(a).  

In Frankel’s case, her income and assets likely far outweigh Hoppy’s.  She argued that Hoppy has sufficient resources to pay his own fees based on his profession.  In California, that might not have been a successful argument. Family Code §2032(b) makes clear that the fact that the requesting party has financial resources from which to pay fees is not itself a bar to an order that the other party pay part or all of the fees and costs requested.  “Financial resources are only one factor for the court to consider in determining how to apportion the overall cost of the litigation equitably between the parties under their relative circumstances.” Id; see also In re Marriage of Drake, 53 Cal.App.4th 1139, 1167 (1997).  In other words, even when faced with two wealthy litigants, the Court may still find that one party must pay the other’s fees to “level the playing field” as the Court did for Hoppy and Frankel.