May 8, 2019
[Copyrighted Material Omitted]
[Copyrighted Material Omitted]
from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia
(DRB-921-09), (Hon. Neal E. Kravitz, Trial Judge), (Hon.
Craig Iscoe, Motions Judge)
N. Khan for appellant.
G. Wilkof for appellee.
Dorfman, Washington, with whom Dia Rasinariu, Washington, was
on the brief, for Deborah Epstein, Domestic Violence Legal
Empowerment and Appeals Project, National Organization for
Women Foundation, DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence,
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, National
Network to End Domestic Violence, National Womens Law
Center, A. Rachel Camp, Mariela Olivares, Catherine F. Klein,
and Laurie S. Kohn, amici curiae.
Easterly and McLeese, Associate Judges, and Nebeker, Senior
Appellant Natalie Khawam challenges an order requiring her to
pay $350,000 in attorneys fees to her former husband,
appellee Grayson P. Wolfe. The fees were incurred in
connection with a dispute over custody of their child. The
trial court awarded fees on the ground that Mr. Wolfes
hiring of an attorney was necessary to protect the welfare
and best interests of the child. Ms. Khawam argues that no
fee award was warranted and that in any event the trial court
erred in setting the amount of the award. We uphold the trial
courts ruling that a fee award was warranted, but we remand
for further proceedings with respect to the amount of the
matter has previously been before this court. Khawam v. Wolfe
(Khawam I), 84 A.3d 558 (D.C. 2014). The following background
material is taken in significant part from our prior opinion,
supplemented and revised as necessary to reflect subsequent
Khawam and Mr. Wolfe married in April 2008 in Washington,
D.C. Khawam I, 84 A.3d at 561. Their son was born in
October 2008 in the District. Id. After the parties
had a bitter argument in early March 2009, Ms. Khawam left
the District for Tampa, Florida, taking the couples child
with her against Mr. Wolfes express objections. Id.
at 562. Mr. Wolfe repeatedly demanded that Ms. Khawam
disclose her location and return with the child, but Ms.
Khawam refused. Id. Several weeks after Ms. Khawam
left for Florida, Mr. Wolfe filed a complaint here in the
District seeking custody of the child. Id. Aware of
the pending lawsuit in the District, but not yet served with
process, Ms. Khawam filed a petition for divorce and custody
of the child in Florida state court. Id.
early April 2009, the Superior Court issued an ex parte order
granting Mr. Wolfe temporary sole custody of the child.
Khawam I, 84 A.3d at 562. Ms. Khawam then sought an
ex parte temporary "stay-away" injunction against
Mr. Wolfe in Florida, alleging that Mr. Wolfe had committed
acts of child abuse and domestic
violence. Id. A Florida state court granted the
requested temporary injunction and subsequently issued
additional temporary injunctions. Id. In June 2010,
however, the Florida state court determined that it lacked
jurisdiction over Ms. Khawams divorce petition and
domestic-violence petitions and therefore dismissed the
petitions and the corresponding temporary injunctions.
Khawam moved to dismiss Mr. Wolfes custody case in the
District, arguing that the Superior Court lacked jurisdiction
under the District of Columbias Uniform Child-Custody
Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, D.C. Code § 16-4601.01 et
seq. (2012 Repl.) (UCCJEA), and that the District was an
inconvenient forum. Khawam I, 84 A.3d at 562. After
an eighteen-day evidentiary hearing, the trial court denied
the motion to dismiss. Id. In May 2010, Mr. Wolfe
filed for divorce in the Superior Court. Id. The
custody and divorce cases were consolidated. Id. The
court granted sole custody of the child to Mr. Wolfe, but
allowed Ms. Khawam supervised visitation with the child.
Id. After the divorce trial, the court issued a
judgment of absolute divorce. Id.
Wolfe sought an award of over $700,000 in attorneys fees and
costs incurred during the custody and divorce litigation.
Khawam I, 84 A.3d at 573. Mr. Wolfe relied on three
separate legal theories: the common-law
"necessaries" doctrine, which in certain
circumstances permits an award of attorneys fees in a
child-custody case if the court finds that engaging an
attorney was necessary to protect the interests of the child;
the "bad faith" exception, which permits a fee
award against a party who has acted in bad faith,
vexatiously, wantonly, or for oppressive reasons connected to
the litigation; and a statutory provision authorizing payment
of "suit money," including attorneys fees, in
divorce proceedings. Id. at 573-74. In 2012, the
trial court awarded Mr. Wolfe $350,000 under the necessaries
doctrine, but expressly declined to decide whether Mr. Wolfe
was entitled to an award under the other two theories.
Id. at 574. The trial court instead ...