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In Re the Marriage of Martha Louise and Denton Edward v. Denton Edward Carlson

August 31, 2011


(Super. Ct. No. 05FL07127)

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hoch , J.

Marriage of Carlson CA3


California Rules of Court, rule 8.1115(a), prohibits courts and parties from citing or relying on opinions not certified for publication or ordered published, except as specified by rule 8.1115(b). This opinion has not been certified for publication or ordered published for purposes of rule 8.1115.

This appeal challenges an order requiring appellant Denton Edward Carlson to pay $100,000 in sanctions under Family Code section 271*fn1 for "being the primary aggressor" in exacerbating the marital dissolution case filed by respondent Martha Louise Carlson.*fn2 Denton contends (1) the trial court erred by imposing sanctions before the case concluded, and (2) the evidence failed to support the order imposing sanctions.

We affirm the sanctions order.


Martha and Denton married in June 1994 and separated sometime between January and June 2005. The parties have two minor children from the marriage. Shortly after separating, Martha and Denton agreed to share time equally with their children.

Martha filed a petition for dissolution of marriage in September 2005.

Prior to separation, the parties jointly operated Denton Outdoor Media, Inc. (the business). The business provides advertising for new houses and residential subdivisions. Martha continued to work for the business until Denton excluded her from its operations in January 2006.

In March 2006, Denton also took over $274,000 held in a joint investment account with Charles Schwab by moving the funds into an account held in his name alone.

1. Violation of Child Support and Temporary Spousal Support Order

After Denton took over the business and the Schwab account funds, Martha filed a motion for child and temporary spousal support. The parties resolved the support issues by stipulation in June 2006. They agreed that Denton would not use the Schwab account funds without prior written agreement from Martha. Denton also stipulated that he would pay $3,600 in child support and $5,600 in temporary spousal support per month to Martha. The stipulation was confirmed by court order.

In August 2007, Denton filed a motion to reduce his support obligations based on the claim that his income from the business had decreased. He asked that his combined child and spousal support payments be modified from $9,200 to $5,657 per month. Before securing a court ruling, Denton reduced his child and spousal support payments to $51 per month for the entire calendar year of 2008. At the time, the children lived with Martha half of the time. In 2009, Denton ceased payment of child and spousal support.

2. Continued Use of the Schwab Account in Violation of Court Order

Despite the order not to use the Schwab account funds without Martha's prior written authorization, Denton continued to withdraw funds from the account. In February 2009, Martha filed a motion to have the Schwab account transferred to her. The motion was granted, and the trial court admonished: "There shall be no withdrawals or other use of the Schwab account by [Denton] prior to the transfer to [Martha] with the exception of any funds required to complete the installation of a railing on the Sea Ranch residential property." Denton was personally present in court when the motion was granted. Nonetheless, he continued to use funds from the investment account without Martha's authorization. Altogether, Denton withdrew approximately $66,000 from the Schwab account.

3. Interference with the Children's Counseling

At some point, the private school attended by the parties' children recommended that both children receive counseling. When the parties' son was suspended from his private school in May 2008, the school conditioned his return on participation in counseling. Denton looked into the circumstances of the incident leading to the suspension. He concluded that the story regarding his son's involvement in a fight had been concocted. Denton did not obtain counseling for either child, and the school expelled both.

Martha filed an ex parte motion to obtain counseling for the children. Denton stipulated to Jack Love, M.A., M.F.T. serving as the children's counselor, and the stipulation was confirmed by order of the court in May 2008. However, Denton subsequently refused to allow Love to provide any counseling services to the children.

4. Delay in the Close of Escrow for the Sea Ranch Property

In early 2008, the parties decided to sell their Sea Ranch property. Martha asked Denton to sign a joint listing agreement to allow a real estate agent to advertise the property, but Denton declined. The next day, Denton announced that he had found buyers and wanted a finder's fee. He told Martha that he would not disclose the buyers until she agreed to pay him an $18,000 finder's fee; Martha did not agree to pay a finder's fee. Martha soon learned that the ...

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