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Can a judge just stay a money judgment?

Tim Kowal     June 19, 2023

Stays of judgment enforcement in California are governed by statute. There are basically only two ways to stay enforcement of a money judgment: (1) post a bond and file a notice of appeal, or (2) ask for a temporary stay under Code of Civil Procedure section 918—but the stay only lasts until the deadline to file an appeal, plus an extra 10 days.

So the indefinite stay of an immediately-enforceable sanctions order in Marriage of Bush (D4d3 Jun. 15, 2023 No. G061202) 2023 WL 4013349 (nonpub. opn.) was a little surprising. The court granted sanctions of $3,635 in favor of the husband against the wife. But until the court decided the property issues, it was still possible the ultimate judgment would wind up with the husband owing the wife. So the judge stayed enforcement of the money order.

Can the trial court do this? Just take an immediately enforceable order for the payment of money, and stay enforcement?

Yes, the Court of Appeal held. But the court did not explain why. The court just stated that “Effectively, the court stayed the sanction until it determined how the parties' assets should be characterized and divided.” The husband argued that the trial court erred by failing to include the sanction amount in the final judgment, but that didn’t matter: the sanction amount was still in full force and effect upon entry of the judgment—even if the judgment didn’t mention it.

Comment:

There is a key detail that, if changed, would require a different outcome. That detail is the amount of the discovery sanction of $3,635. If instead the amount was greater than $5,000, the sanction would have been immediately appealable. And in that case, the order could not have been stayed consistent with section 918 longer than 10 days after the deadline to appeal.

So if you are faced with a situation that involves staying an interim money order, be sure to consider whether the time limit under Code of Civil Procedure section 918 applies.

Tim Kowal is an appellate specialist certified by the California State Bar Board of Legal Specialization. Tim helps trial attorneys and clients win their cases and avoid error on appeal. He co-hosts the Cal. Appellate Law Podcast at CALpodcast.com, and publishes summaries of cases and appellate tips for trial attorneys. Contact Tim at [email protected] or (949) 676-9989.
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