Opinion:Friend v. Friend, 2022 OK 29
Subject matter:Family Law; Appellate Procedure
Date Decided:March 22, 2022
Trial Court:District Court of Seminole County
Route to this Court:Grant of Petition for Certiorari of Court of Civil Appeals Decision. 
Facts:A mother brought an action against a father for modification and enforcement of child support. The trial court increased the father’s child support obligation and also found him in indirect contempt because he had no good cause for failure to pay his child support obligation. The trial court granted the mother her attorney fees under 43 O.S. § 111.1(C)(3) in the amount of $19,604.14. The father appealed the award of attorney fees and the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals, in an unpublished opinion, affirmed the trial court’s award of attorney fees, but denied the mother’s request for her attorney fees on appeal. The mother then sought this Court’s review of the Court of Civil Appeal’s denial of her attorney fees on appeal. 
Standard of Review:De novo review of a decision denying attorney fees which are mandated by statute. In cases where an award of attorney fees are discretionary, the decision is reviewed for abuse of discretion. 
Analysis:Where a statute mandates an award of attorney fees in district court, the prevailing party is also entitled to recover appellate attorney fees. Ellis v. Liebowitz, 1990 OK 107. Here, the mother was entitled to her attorney fees under 43 O.S. § 111.1(C)(3). The trial court did not have discretion in this regard. An appeals court has no discretion to deny attorney fees when under a particular statute the trial court does not. In cases where the award of attorney fees by the trial court is discretionary, the appellate court reviews such an award by engaging in a judicial balancing of equities. In this case, the opinion from the Court of Civil Appeals provides no basis for determining whether that court balanced the equities; and their order does not reflect an exercise of discretion, so we are unable to review it for an abuse of discretion. However, the record below shows that the father did not contest the reasonableness of the fee request, only whether the mother was entitled to recover fees at all. Given this, the Court of Civil Appeals correctly found that the trial court’s award of fees was not an abuse of discretion. 
Outcome:Court of Civil Appeals opinion vacated; Remanded to the trial court. 
Vote:6-3Concur: Darby, C.J., Winchester, Edmonson, Combs, Gurich and Kuehn, J.J. (author)Concur in Part and Dissent in Part: Kane, V.C.J and Kauger, J.Dissent: Rowe, J.