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Can someone ask a court to sanction the opposing party to pay attorney fees if that person is representing themself pro se?

Frederick, MD |

My ex is threatening to have her lawyer sanction the court to make me pay her attorney fees even though she is representing herself. She claims to have incurred attorney fees even though she is representing herself against a contempt of court petition for which she is in violation. Is it even possible to ask for attorney fees if you're representing yourself and, if so,what is the best argument/defense against having to do so? This is a civil/family law/divorce matter. Multiple perspectives would be appreciated.

Attorney Answers 3

  1. You mention "her lawyer" but say she's representing herself, so whether she actually has a lawyer and has incurred fees is unclear. it's possible for her to have retained counsel to consult with, even if they're not her attorney of record and won't appear for her in court. You might want to do that, since you're fuzzy on procedure.

    There may also be sanctions that aren't legal fees, but are payable to the court, to punish the party for being in contempt of a court order.

    You need to carefully review your state's civil predure laws on contempt in family law proceedings to see what authority she's relying on and what the statutes say. Or better yet, hire a lawyer for help, this is a job for a professional.

    Disclaimer: I'm only licensed in CA. Please note that this answer does not constitute legal advice, and should not be relied on, since each state has different laws, each situation is fact specific, and it is impossible to evaluate a legal problem without a comprehensive consultation and review of all the facts and documents at issue. This answer does not create an attorney-client relationship.

  2. The court has rather broad discretion in sanctioning a party, or even an attorney. This can include monetary sanctions. Often sanctions are imposed for frivolous motions, and this is not something you think is frivolous, but what a court thinks is frivolous. The rules govern proceedings, even if you are trying to represent yourself. If the issue involved is a matter you take seriously, it is best to be represented by a lawyer; only with a lawyer, will you have dispassionate advice. The hazards of self-representation can be summed up with this, even if the person representing himself or herself is a lawyer: "A lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client."

  3. I order to properly answer your question we need more information. In Maryland, there are statutes that allow the court to award attorneys fees in asserting or defending different types of claims in family law situations. Without knowing the claims asserted in your contempt matter, it is impossible to know if the statutes apply. There are separate statutes that impose sanctions for bad faith litigation.

    In any event, the requests for attorneys fees should only apply to those reasonable fees actually incurred. In most cases the court also looks to the relative financial resources of the parties in assessing the fees (if any).

    Additionally, your ex must ask for the fees. A threat is not enough. Then she must win her defense of the claim to even be entitled to the attorneys fees she may have incurred. Then the court has to determine the reasonableness of the fees.

    If you do not have an attorney in this matter, I strongly suggest you consult one. You want to find a lawyer who has experience in family law matters and who has some working knowledge of the judges in Frederick. Good Luck.