A recent case – Clements v. Clements - supports the position that a party's refusal to accept a reasonable matrimonial settlement without any meritorious justification may justify an award of legal fees under the Domestic Relations Law. In this case, a divorce action had been pending for four (4) years when a comprehensive settlement proposal was made. The husband rejected the offer only to accept the identical offer six (6) months later on the eve of trial.
The Court concluded that because the settlement reached essentially mirrored the prior rejected offer, and because the issues raised by the husband to the offer were issues that had either already been resolved or were factually unsustainable, that the husband's rejection of the prior settlement offer could only be concluded to be a delay tactic. The Court further found that the husband's rejection of the initial settlement offer was motivated to have the wife expend additional legal fees which would have the effect of reducing the wife's final payout from the divorce.
With little case law on the issue of a bad faith failure to accept a settlement or bad faith negotiations in a matrimonial matter, the court nevertheless concluded that the bad faith rejection by the husband of the wife's settlement offer justified the legal fee award of $22,500 to the wife. The court was quick to note that the fact that the husband in this case was also more than $37,000 in arrears in child support, a fact which "clinched" the decision for the court to award the wife legal fees as a result of the husband's bad faith refusal to accept the wife's initial settlement offer.