Family cases are a common type of civil law cases that deal with issues relating to parenting, child care and marriage. Family courts handle several types of domestic issues.
The most common cases include marriage annulment, divorce, child custody, change of name, guardianship, protection against domestic violence, juvenile maters and termination of parents right and adoption. But the focus of this article is divorce cases.
The Divorce Process
Divorce is a difficult process to go through emotionally, physically and even financially. It could prove to be very expensive for many couples especially when you consider the total cost of splitting property, paying child support fees, living apart from each other, and spouse maintenance fees. In addition to all these, couples have to pay legal fees to their respective lawyers.
Divorce attorney fees could cost a fortune and it ranges widely between $50 per hour to about $700 per hour, although some lawyers require payment up front and a retainer fee could cost as high as $20,000. A recent survey showed that on the average, the time taken to finalize a divorce case from filing the initial petition to the final court hearing is about 9 months in total.
This shows how much a divorce case could potentially cost both parties should they decide to go forward with the divorce, as it is a court requirement that both parties have access to competent legal representation.
In many situations, one parent is usually more financially capable than the other. Although most courts deem it fit that couples use community property to pay a divorce attorney fee, there have been cases where one party does not have full access to shared resources. This often leaves the dependent spouse worrying about where they will get the funds for legal representation.
In situations like this, the court allows one party request that their lawyer fees be fully paid for by the other party. Which brings us to the question of who is entitled to attorney fees.
Who Is Entitled to Attorney Fees?
The law provides that if a dependent spouse is entitled to alimony or other form of post-divorce support, then the court may award this spouse reasonable or full attorney fees.
Dependent spouse is a term used to refer to the party that earns considerably less and depends on the other spouse largely for maintenance and support in the marriage.
In divorce cases, the issue of dependency is not whether the other party has more money but whether there is an actual reliance on them to meet basic needs such as housing, clothing and feeding.
Therefore, the spouse seeking support in form of attorney fees has to shoulder the burden of proving dependency in court and must show that all available sources of income are not enough to pay their lawyer fees.
Situations Warranting Attorney’s Fees Penalty
Aside from the financial inadequacies of the dependent spouse to pay the attorney fees, there are other situations in which a judge may penalize one party by ordering them to pay the divorce attorney fees of the other party. In the situation where one spouse has abused the right of the other party and the legal system, a judge may impose on them a penalty to settle the attorney fees of the other party.
Situations warranting such rulings can include:
- Wrongly accusing the other party of domestic violence and child abuse
- Obstruction of justice by withholding information and also giving false information in court
- Lavish or improper use of community property
- Failing to supply the required documents or doctoring evidence in court
- Filing frivolous motions that have no legal merit.
Steps to Obtain Attorney Fees
Even though an individual might not be capable of providing themselves with adequate legal representation, there are certain things that must be done before a judge will consider ruling in their favor.
The first thing that must be done is to request attorney fees when filing for divorce. For the petitioner, they have to request attorney fees in the initial petition and in the situation where the dependent spouse seeking attorney fees is the respondent.
After that they have to make their request known in the initial response to the petition. Unfortunately, most courts only consider the requests included in the initial case documents.
Another thing that a party seeking attorney fees must do is to refrain from wrong doing against the other spouse as this might be used against you in court. Types of wrongdoings include:
- Verbal Abuse
- Domestic Violence
- Deny the other spouse child custody
- Refusal to pay child support fees.
Because the main purpose of ordering one spouse to pay the attorney fees of the other is to ensure equity in court and make sure that both spouses are provided adequate representation, it is only normal that any form of wrong doing especially domestic violence should influence the award of attorney fees.