In Re the Marriage of: Matthew L. Antini, Appellee,
Angela M. Antini, Appellant. v.
CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF CIVIL APPEALS, DIVISION I
PREVIOUSLY GRANTED; COURT OF CIVIL APPEALS OPINION VACATED;
TRIAL COURT ORDER REVERSED AND REMANDED WITH INSTRUCTIONS.
A. McClure, Richard J. Goralewicz, Legal Aid Services of
Oklahoma, Inc., Oklahoma City, for Appellant.
White, Duncan, OK, for Appellee.
In this writ of habeas corpus action brought under the
Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act
("UCCJEA"), Okla. Stat. tit. 43, §§
551-101 through 402 (2011), prevailing party appeals trial
court's order denying prevailing party's motion for
attorney fees and costs. The court held that attorney fees
can only be awarded to a party who has retained and paid for
legal counsel and declined to address prevailing party's
request for transcription costs. The Court of Civil Appeals
affirmed the trial court's holding regarding attorney
fees but reversed the holding regarding transcription costs.
We find that the intent of the Legislature in enacting the
UCCJEA was not to except entities rendering legal services at
no cost to the clients. Accordingly, Appellant is entitled to
reasonable and necessary expenses including attorney fees
borne by her counsel, Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma.
At issue is whether Okla. Stat. tit. 43, § 551-312 of
the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act
("UCCJEA") requires a court to award prevailing
party attorney fees to entities rendering legal services to
clients at no cost. We answer in the affirmative.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Appellant, Angela M. Antini, and Appellee, Matthew L. Antini,
are the biological parents of two minor children. In November
2013, the parties were granted a Judgment of Divorce in the
State of New York. In it, the court awarded Appellant
physical custody over the children with the parties sharing
joint legal custody. Appellee was granted visitation rights
and ordered to pay child support.
In 2013, prior to the entry of the Judgment of Divorce,
Appellant moved with the children from New York to Maine. In
April 2014, Appellee picked the children up in Maine for
visitation but transported them to Oklahoma and, despite
Appellant's requests and her subsequent trip to Oklahoma
to recover the children, Appellee refused to return them. On
May 19, 2014, after it became apparent that Appellee was not
going to return the children, Appellant registered the New
York divorce decree as a foreign judgment in a Maine court
and filed a motion for contempt against Appellee on May 21,
2014. The court ordered Appellee to appear with the children.
However, Appellee did not do so and the Maine court found
Appellee in contempt on September 24, 2014. Appellee ignored
an offer to purge his contempt by returning both children by
September 26, 2014, and Appellee never returned the children
to Maine. Because of this failure to return the children, the
Maine court issued a bench warrant for Appellee.
On December 16, 2014, Appellee filed a petition in the
District Court of Stephens County, State of Oklahoma, to
register the New York divorce decree in Oklahoma and asked
the court to assume custody jurisdiction. Appellee's
petition did not reference the registration of the New York
Decree in Maine nor the contempt proceedings in Maine. In
response, Appellant filed a special appearance in the trial
court objecting to the registration of the New York final
judgment of divorce and also filed a petition and application
for a writ of habeas corpus requesting custody of the minor
children. On March 17, 2015, the court found that
"pursuant to the Oklahoma Uniform Child Custody
Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, 43 O.S. §§
551-201 et. seq. the [S]tate of Oklahoma has no
jurisdiction in this matter and that this action should be
dismissed." Maine retained child custody jurisdiction
and ordered the return of the children to Appellant. The
Oklahoma court also denied and dismissed the petition to
register the New York decree in Oklahoma.
On April 21, 2015, Appellant filed a pro se motion to modify
custody in the Maine court, requesting sole custody of the
children and granting Appellee supervised visitation.
Appellee responded with an answer and counterclaim on May 7,
2015, but then failed to appear before the Maine court. The
Maine court then granted Appellant's motion and ruled it
had exclusive and continuing jurisdiction over the children.
No appeal of the Maine court's decision was entered and
the decision is now final under Maine law.
On April 29, 2015, Appellee filed in the Oklahoma court a
Motion to Reconsider the March 17, 2015, decision, denying
and dismissing Appellee's motion to register the New York
judgment in Oklahoma and granting custody of the minor
children to Appellant. That motion was heard on April 14,
2016, and the court issued its decision denying the motion
and dismissing the petition.
Subsequently, Appellant filed a Motion for Costs and
Attorney's Fees pursuant to Okla. Stat. tit. 43, §
551-312, a fee-shifting statute within the UCCJEA. That
section mandates that a court award to the prevailing party
necessary and reasonable expenses incurred by or on behalf of
the party, including costs, communication expenses,
attorney's fees, investigative fees, expenses for
witnesses, travel expenses, and child care during the course
of the proceedings, unless the party from whom fees or
expenses are sought establishes that the award would be
motion, counsel sought payment of prevailing party attorney
fees and reimbursement of costs for transcripts. The court
denied her motion, finding, as a matter of law, that attorney
fees can only be awarded under the UCCJEA to a party who has
retained counsel and personally paid for their services. That
is, Appellant's counsel was not entitled to a reasonable
attorney fee merely because Appellant was represented by
Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma, Inc. The court further denied
Appellant's request for transcription costs reasoning
that the issue of costs for transcription of a default
modification of divorce decree hearing in Maine should be
decided in Maine.
Appellant appealed. On appeal, the Court of Civil Appeals
affirmed the district court as to the claim for
attorney's fees but reversed and remanded on the issue of
transcription costs. In so doing, the court held that
"[w]ithout... guidance, either from the Legislature or
the Oklahoma Supreme Court, Okla. Stat. tit. 43, §
551-312 (2011) does not statutorily mandate attorney fee
awards to prevailing parties when the prevailing party
receives free legal services." But, the court further
held that because the transcription of the hearing in Maine
was vital to the Oklahoma trial court's ...