When is a Joinder in a Family Law Case Appropriate?

Posted on July 2nd, 2012

In family law cases (as well as “civil” cases generally), either party is allowed to request that the court “join” someone or some entity to the family law case. When the court “joins” a person or entity to a case it has the effect of that person/entity becoming a party to the case.

In a recent unpublished opinion from District 2, Division 3 (filed May 18, 2012), the Court of Appeals analyzed a trial court’s denial of a joinder request by a party.  In the Ferdman case, a husband and wife divorced after a long-term marriage, and the husband was ordered to pay the wife $7300 per month in spousal support.  The husband owned a business, and then quickly remarried.  After the husband’s business began to deteriorate, he stopped paying spousal support and the husband’s new wife filed for divorce.  The first ex-wife obtained a judgment for spousal support arrears against the husband. The business’ creditors started coming after the business.  Eventually, the new ex-wife started her own business and  the business’ creditors starting taking the business’ assets and then selling them to the new ex-wife at discounted prices. The husband had no financial or equitable ownership of the new ex-wife’s business, exercised no control over the entity and was never employed by the company.

The first ex-wife filed a joinder motion in the first divorce case, seeking to join the second ex-wife and her business, alleging that the husband and second ex-wife were conspiring to shift assets so that husband to avoid his obligations.  The trial court denied the motion, and the Court of Appeal agreed.

Family Code § 2021 and CRC 5.150 authorize the court to join a person as a party to a family law proceeding who claims an interest in the proceeding. But only three reasons exist for joinder of a third party to a family law proceeding: California Rule of Court 5.154(a) states that the husband or the wife in a family law proceeding may request an order joining a person “who has in his or her possession … or claims to own any property subject to the jurisdiction of the court ….” The rule for permissive joinder states a person may be joined “if the court finds that it would be appropriate to determine the particular issue in the proceeding and that the person to be joined as a party is either indispensable to a determination of that issue or necessary to the enforcement of any judgment rendered on that issue.” (CRC, rule 5.158(b).)

Schnabel v. Superior Court, (1994) 30 Cal.App.4th 758 observes, “[J]oinder of a third party to a family law proceeding is compelled only in the rarest of circumstances.” (Id. at p. 760.) Here, the first ex-wife failed to show that the second ex-wife and her new business qualified to be joined for any of the three reasons outlined above.

Thus, the Court affirmed that only in very rare circumstances will a trial court allow the joinder of a separate person or entity into a couple’s divorce case.

Our San Diego family attorneys are experts in handling divorce cases, conducting discovery, and obtaining information that would either warrant joinder in certain cases or defending a motion for joinder.  Our Certified Family Law Specialists (CLS-F) are available to speak to you today if you have a question about your divorce case. Call us today! (619) 284-4113