Suppose you or your spouse filed for a divorce. In that case, you are most probably wondering who is responsible for divorce attorney fees. In most cases, each party pays their divorce fees. It is important to note that the spouses are not allowed to have one divorce attorney for the entire legal process. This means each spouse is responsible for paying legal fees according to what they agree on with their lawyer.
Traditionally, this is how the issue of divorce attorney fees is tackled in the U.S. However, some exceptions might require one spouse to pay for the other spouse’s legal fees.
Throughout this article, we will tackle all the necessary information regarding attorney fees and handle them correctly according to the law.
In any legal claim or lawsuit, each of the parties involved is responsible for paying their attorney fees.
As most of us already know, attorney fees are the compensation that lawyers receive for their legal services and which include the following:
- Researching statutes and laws that might apply to the case in hand
- Reviewing carefully the facts and evidence that their client provides
- Analyzing wisely all the evidence to determine what can be helpful and support the case
- Representing clients during court hearings
- Carefully formulating and preparing legal arguments to use during court divorce hearings
- Preparing for secondary follow-up court meetings or appeals
In addition to what is mentioned above, lawyers might assist in mediation sessions, provide legal advice to their clients personally, and other tasks outside the court.
Who Pays Attorney Fees in Divorce?
If you’re filing for divorce, keep in mind that you will have to handle your attorney fees. However, there are exceptions, and it is best to consult with your lawyer. To assess these exceptions, we must start with the “Family Code section 2030” or the “need and ability” regulation. The purpose of this statute is to “ensure that each party has access to legal representation.”
To clarify, paying attorney fees for spouse that earns less than the other will be concerned that they won’t have as many chances of winning the case. In other words, the spouse will be afraid that the other spouse will “out-litigate” them because of their access to more funds. Thus, the role of “Family Code section 2030” is to create equality between spouses and make sure that none of them takes advantage of the other because of the money.
The court works to achieve equality and parity when there is a significant difference between spouses’ incomes so that each one can have suitable lawyers representing them. To do that, the judge will carefully assess each party’s assets, income, needs, and ability to pay typical lawyer fees for divorce.
The court might order the more financially capable spouse to pay the other’s spouse fees. This will only happen if the court decides that one party cannot retain proper legal representation. In contrast, the other party has more than enough funds to cover all legal fees in divorce. To add, the court will order the capable party to cover only the reasonably necessary amount of fees and costs.
The process of obtaining an attorney fee award is never easy and requires a lot of steps. You will need to file a formal request to the court through specific forms and provide supporting evidence and factual declaration. Your lawyer needs to specify the tasks and work they will perform to effectively close the case (this also applies if your lawyer already performed his tasks).
During the court hearing, you and your spouse may both present your positions for or against “obtaining an attorney fee award.” The court will carefully consider each of the positions and order the more capable spouse to pay attorney fees if necessary.
Can You make Your Spouse Pay Divorce Attorney Fees?
It may be true that no successful marriage ends in divorce; it is just as accurate that divorces cause financial and emotional burdens. Not only will you have to divide your assets, but you will also face the hurdle of legal fees for divorce.
One of the other frequently asked questions when filing for divorce is whether you can make your spouse pay your attorney fees. The answer is “it depends” on your situation. We already mentioned above how you can obtain an attorney fee award; however, there are additional details that you must be aware of.
Do You Qualify for an Award of Attorney Fees?
- Bad faith: the court may order one spouse to pay attorney fees based on bad faith or inappropriate behavior. This means that one of the spouses engaged in bad faith behavior, causing the divorce case to take more time and increasing the other spouse’s attorney fees. This happens when one spouse makes false declarations about the other spouse, disobeys court orders, refuses to provide necessary documents, or refuses to negotiate. Thus, the court considers the increased legal fees as unfair and will order the spouse at-fault to pay all or some of the other spouse’s attorney expenses.
- Dependent Spouse in Need:
- You might be eligible to receive divorce support if the court identifies you as a dependent. This means that your sustainability entirely depends on your ex-partner’s support. The most common example of this is if you’re a stay-at-home parent who sacrificed job opportunities to stay at home, maintain the household, and raise children. But this doesn’t mean that the court won’t identify any working spouses as “dependent.” In other cases, a dominant spouse might have all bank accounts and other assets under their name, preventing the dependent spouse from paying their divorce attorney.
- To determine if you’re eligible for an award of attorney fees, the judge will examine closely relevant factors. This includes the dependent spouse’s owned property and disposable income (i.e., total income minus necessary expenses).
Can You Be Awarded Attorney Fees for the Entire Divorce Case?
When there’s no in both spouses’ financial situations, the court may order the spouse with higher income to pay a small percentage of the other spouse’s lawyer fees. The court will make such a decision to form a “financial equality” between both spouses.
The court may award attorney fees for the following family lawsuits:
- Child Custody (including custody orders or modifications to child support fees)
- Child Support
- Divorce: attorney fees are not available when it comes to equitable distribution or division of property. Equitable distribution can be a separate case, or you can include it in your divorce case.
- One exception is when one spouse owns separate property and files against the other spouse to regain possession of that property.
- As mentioned above, another exception includes when one spouse engages in bad faith behavior and unreasonably drags out the divorce case.
When there’s not so much difference in both spouse’s financial situations, the court may order the spouse with higher income to pay a small percentage of the other spouse’s lawyer fees. The court will make such a decision to form a “financial equality” between both spouses.
- In most divorce cases, each spouse has to handle their divorce fees. There are exceptions where a judge will order the more financially stable spouse to pay the other spouse’s divorce fees.
- Attorney fees are the compensation that a lawyer gets for their services. Some attorneys charge per hour, while others may charge according to the outcome of the entire case. Suppose your attorney decides to charge on an hourly basis. In that case, that means that you will need to pay for the time he spends on phone calls, emails, meetings, court appearances, legal research, and others.
- The cost of divorce may add up, and the old saying of “you get what you pay for” is true, especially in divorces. You might think it’s best to represent yourself in court hearings and save some money; however, this will turn against you if your spouse can afford a highly experienced divorce attorney.
As a dependent spouse, you must be the one to petition for an award of attorney fees. You must begin with this process as soon as possible at the very beginning of your divorce case. By doing so, you will secure your chances of getting a skilled divorce attorney.
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