In re the Marriage of Vanessa Castillo Aragon, Appellee, and Alain Leonardo Aragon, Appellant.
County District Court No. 16DR1172 Honorable Roberto
Announced May 16, 2019 Thomas Law Group, P.C., Sergei B.
Thomas, Denver, Colorado, for Appellee
Leonard A. Martinez & Associates, PC, Leonard A.
Martinez, Lakewood, Colorado, for Appellant
1 In this dissolution of marriage case between Vanessa
Castillo Aragon (wife) and Alain Leonardo Aragon (husband),
husband appeals two post-decree orders: a January 28, 2018,
order awarding wife attorney fees, and a March 7, 2018, order
awarding her child support and maintenance. We vacate the
attorney fees order, affirm in part and reverse in part the
child support and maintenance order, and remand the case for
2 The parties' thirteen-year marriage ended in 2017. They
have five children. Under the initial February 2017 permanent
orders, the district court ordered husband to pay wife $823
per month in child support and $1, 372 per month in
maintenance. Those calculations were based on husband then
receiving $843 per week in workers' compensation payments
for temporary total disability. But because husband was
awaiting final resolution of a workers' compensation
claim at that time, the court reserved a final decision on
property division, child support, and maintenance until the
claim was resolved.
3 In July 2017, husband settled his workers' compensation
claim for a lump-sum payment of $171, 563, representing
165.34 weeks of pay at the rate of $887.48 per week.
4 Wife later moved to modify child support and maintenance.
She also asked that the issue of attorney fees under section
14-10-119, C.R.S. 2018, be reopened and that husband be
ordered to pay $28, 583.50 of her fees and costs. The court
granted wife's request to reopen attorney fees and
ordered husband to pay 75% of her requested fees and costs.
5 After a hearing, the court determined husband's income
by taking his workers' compensation settlement, less the
attorney fees he owed to his workers' compensation
attorney and the amount set aside for his future medical
expenses; prorating that amount over twelve months beginning
April 1, 2018; and adding in his income as an Uber driver and
from an Airbnb rental property. The court attributed no
income to wife and ordered the parties to recalculate child
support and maintenance based on husband's income, which
resulted in husband owing wife $1, 695 per month in child
support and $4, 170 per month in maintenance. The court noted
that child support and maintenance would have to be
recalculated on or before April 1, 2019 - the end of the
proration period for husband's settlement - and it denied
wife's request for additional attorney fees.
6 Husband first contends that the district court erred in
awarding wife attorney fees. He argues that claim preclusion
bars an award of fees wife incurred for the initial February
2017 proceedings. He also argues, and wife concedes, that the
court didn't make adequate findings to support the award
under section 14-10-119. And he argues that the court erred
by failing to conduct a hearing on fees and by failing to
determine the reasonableness of wife's requested fees
using the lodestar method.
7 We agree with both parties that additional findings are
necessary concerning attorney fees and remand the case for
that purpose, and we agree with husband that the court should
apply the lodestar method when determining reasonable
attorney fees. But we reject husband's arguments that
claim preclusion bars wife from receiving fees she incurred
for the initial permanent orders proceedings and that he was
entitled to a hearing on wife's request.
8 Under section 14-10-119, "[t]he court from time to
time, after considering the financial resources of both
parties, may order a party to pay a reasonable amount"
for the other party's costs, including attorney fees, of
maintaining dissolution proceedings. See In re Marriage
of Gutfreund, 148 P.3d 136, 141 (Colo. 2006) (The
statute empowers courts to "equitably apportion costs
and fees between parties based on relative ability to
pay."). The decision whether to award fees under the
statute is discretionary; we won't disturb such a
decision absent a showing of an abuse of that discretion.
In re Marriage of Davis, 252 P.3d 530, 538
(Colo.App. 2011); see Gutfreund, 148 P.3d at 141
(noting district court's "great latitude to craft
[attorney fee] orders appropriate to the circumstances of a
9 In awarding fees, a court must make findings concerning the
parties' relative incomes, assets, and liabilities; and
it must apportion fees based on the statute's equitable
purpose, explaining how and why it arrived at the specific
amount of the award. In re Marriage of Aldrich, 945
P.2d 1370, 1378 (Colo. 1997); see also In Interest of
K.M.B., 80 P.3d 914, 917-18 (Colo.App. 2003) ("When
awarding attorney fees, the trial court must specifically set
forth the reasons for the award . . . ."). The court
must also consider the reasonableness of the hourly rate and
the necessity for the hours billed. In re Marriage of
Connerton, 260 P.3d 62, 67 (Colo.App. 2010); In re
Marriage of Mockelmann, 944 P.2d 670, 672 (Colo.App.
1997); In re Marriage of Rieger, 827 P.2d 625, 625
(Colo.App. 1992); see also In re Marriage of Newell,
192 P.3d 529, 537 (Colo.App. 2008) (presuming magistrate
considered attorney's fee affidavit and was satisfied
that fees were reasonably incurred).
Additional Findings Are Necessary Regarding Attorney Fees
¶ 10 As wife concedes, although her motion and the
court's attorney fees order are captioned "pursuant
to" section 14-10-119, the court didn't make any
findings regarding the basis for awarding fees under the
statute. Though the court attached wife's motion to its
order, the motion asserts only that wife incurred substantial
fees, most of which were "due to [husband's]
actions, lack of action, and/or purposely hiding compensation
and employment funds." These factors aren't a proper
basis for awarding fees under section 14-10-119. See In
re Marriage of Woolley, 25 P.3d 1284, 1288-89 (Colo.App.
2001) (section 14-10-119 award is primarily intended to
apportion fees based on the parties' financial
circumstances); see also In re Marriage of Trout,
897 P.2d 838, 840 (Colo.App. 1994).
11 Without more specific findings under the statutory
standard, we aren't able to meaningfully review the
attorney fees order. See In re Marriage of Rozzi,
190 P.3d 815, 822 (Colo.App. 2008). Thus, we vacate the order
and remand the case for additional findings. See
Aldrich, 945 P.2d at 1380; K.M.B., 80 P.3d at
12 But the court need not hold a hearing on remand. As wife
points out, the parties stipulated that the court would rule
on her motion without a hearing. See In re Marriage of
Ensminger, 209 P.3d 1163, 1167 (Colo.App. 2008) (court
doesn't have an obligation to hold a hearing sua sponte
on a spouse's request for attorney fees); see also
Maloney v. Brassfield, 251 P.3d 1097, 1108 (Colo.App.
2010) ("Stipulations are a form of judicial
admission" and "are binding on the party who makes
them.") (citation omitted).
Court Should Start by Determining a Lodestar Amount
13 We further conclude that, on remand, the district court
should determine a lodestar amount as the starting point when
evaluating the reasonableness and necessity of wife's
attorney fees. In so concluding, we reject the majority's
decision in Woolley, 25 P.3d at 1289, to the
contrary. We instead agree with the dissenting judge in that
case, who would have required calculation of a lodestar
figure in determining fees under section 14-10-119.
See 25 P.3d at 1289-91 (Taubman, J., concurring in
part and dissenting in part); see also Visible Voices,
Inc. v. Indus. Claim Appeals Office, 2014 COA 63, ¶
25 (declining to follow the decision ...