The truth is that contested divorce can be quite expensive. With spouses arguing over everything from child support to alimony and who gets to keep the family pet, divorce attorney fees can skyrocket quickly.
In fact, it is the high figures in monthly legal invoices that tend to force divorcing couples to cool down, put their hatred aside, and try to find quick ways of solving their differences. But what happens when one spouse cannot afford to pay for their divorce attorney fees?
Can the court compel one spouse to pay for the legal fees of the other spouse? How does the law protect the rights of both parties in a divorce case while ensuring equity? Read on to find out if your spouse can pay for your divorce attorney’s fees.
The American Rule in the Context of Divorce
Most states follow the “American Rule” when establishing responsibility for legal fees in court cases. The rule stipulates how an attorney is paid and clearly states that each party in a case pays for his or her own legal costs regardless of the result.
However, in the context of divorce, things might be a little bit different. In most states, family court judges are at liberty to order one spouse to cater for the other spouse’s divorce attorney fees if there is a relatively large income gap between them.
In such cases, the judge will order the high-earning spouse to cover some or all of the lower-earning /non-earning spouse’s legal fees.
In some states such as California, the statute underlying divorce attorney fees award clarifies that if one party can afford to pay the legal fees for both sides and he/she is unwilling to do so, then the court will give an order to “level the playing field” between the divorcing couples.
In New Jersey, the family court will automatically order the high-earning spouse to cover both sides’ legal fees because the assumption is that the higher-earning spouse will most likely recover financially once the divorce is settled.
Can My Spouse Pay My Divorce Attorney Fees If We Are a Dual-Income Household?
It is quite unlikely to see a judge issuing orders requiring one spouse to cover the other spouse’s divorce attorney fees in a dual-income house. In this case, a dual-income household means that both parties earn money either from business or employment.
In the modern world, it is quite difficult to come across a situation where one spouse is entirely dependent and reliant on the other for financial support.
Therefore, if both parties earn almost the same amount of money, the court will be inclined to let each party bear the burden of his/her own attorney fees.
Determining the Amount of Attorney Fees to Be Awarded
The amount of divorce attorney fees awarded is determined in two parts. First, the family court will determine how much the lawyer’s time is worth. This might be surprising, but the court will not simply apply the fees that the lawyer has been charging you throughout the litigation.
Instead, the judge will establish a “reasonable and fair fee” depending on the services that the attorney has been offering. The court looks at several factors, such as the difficulty of the case, the average attorney fee in the area, the lawyer’s level of experience, and the other cases the attorney had to give up to litigate your divorce.
After examining all the relevant factors, the court will determine a reasonable fee that the attorney deserves.
The next step in this process involves determining how much of the attorney’s fees should be shifted to the other spouse. Keep in mind that the court doesn’t require one spouse’s full fees to be automatically shifted to the other. In fact, it rarely happens.
In most cases, the court will look at the same factors it used in deciding how to award fees and make a sound decision on which services your spouse should pay for in the litigation. Sometimes, the court may choose to discount the full attorney fee when the primary reason for ordering your spouse to cover both fees is a financial difference in earnings.
This means that each party in the divorce will pay a specific portion of the attorney’s fees for the financially struggling spouse
Attorney’s Fee Penalties
Judges always want to conclude divorce cases as fast as possible so they can allow the parties involved to move on with their lives. Unfortunately, some spouses may start acting in bad faith during the divorce process hence delaying the entire process and driving up divorce attorney fees for both sides.
Other than an increase in attorney fees, unnecessary delays may also result in stress and wasted time. Examples of disruptive tactics that your spouse may employ to delay the process include;
- Refusing to comply with court orders until threatened with contempt of court.
- Failing to appear for hearings or court-ordered mediation sessions.
- Failing to provide you with requested information on time.
- Constantly filing motions with the court about some of the trivial matters.
If your spouse or his/her attorney starts to engage in delay tactics, it will automatically lead you to incur higher attorney fees. Your divorce lawyer will have to respond to unending motions, file his/her own motions to force the other party to comply with court orders, and keep going back to the court for rescheduled hearings.
This consumes a lot of time and only makes the divorce more expensive. Therefore, if one party decides to engage in disruptive tactics to drive up litigation costs, the presiding judge may be forced to grant the other party’s request for attorney’s fees as a penalty for the mischievous conduct.
Speak with An Experienced Divorce Attorney Today!
Divorce cases are not only emotionally draining but also expensive. If you are in the process of filing for divorce and you want your spouse to pay your attorney fees, it is prudent to speak with an experienced divorce attorney to discuss your rights.
At Legal Giant, we strive to ensure that you work with the best team of experienced divorce lawyers that will do everything possible to protect your interests and rights throughout the divorce process. Contact us today and let us set up an initial consultation meeting to discuss your case.