The time has finally come. Whether it be divorce, child support enforcement, paternity or child custody issues, you’re in the thick of it. Suddenly you’re questioning your every move. Your patterns of behavior have become erratic and things seem to be spiraling out of control. But, you take a deep breath and a long weekend and come to the realization that your only option is to focus on the positive. “This too shall pass" and “It’s always darkest before the dawn" are best-selling bumper stickers for a reason, right?! Your friends’ pep talks start sinking in and soon your buying into their assertions that this is really is the first day of the rest of your life.
That little spring in your step finally returns and you realize everything is going to be a-okay. And then, it happens. You get a letter from your lawyer informing you the other party has requested that you to pay their attorneys fees and costs. One of three things is probably going through your head at this point.
No. One: Me?! ME?! This must be a joke, I didn’t even file this suit! How on earth can I be responsible for this jerkoff’s $400/hour rate when I have no say in any of this?! (result: hurt foot or hand from kicking or punching the nearest hard surface)
No. Two: Hahaha (in either an extremely sarcastic or incredibly bitter tone), that little &%#, I provided everything for that *$&! and now he/she wants me to finance their case too? (result: angry voicemail or a very messy night at the bar)
And, of course, No. Three: Is this right? I can’t afford this, what am I going to do, I’m going to have to get a second job & stop eating out & cancel my gym membership &…(result: breathing into a paper bag until you are so exhausted you pass out)
Time for that deep breath again. The first thing you need to know is this is not uncommon. If you don’t ask for attorney’s fees in your pleading, you’re not going to get them. And, no matter what the parties’ circumstances, one is inevitably going to request this. The second thing is that a Judge won’t just arbitrarily award fees because a party asks for them. The most important thing to remember is that entitlement to attorneys fees is based on need and ability. Once the need of one party is established and the ability of the other party to contribute to fees and costs is established, only then will the court determine the amount of fees and costs to be awarded. Don’t panic if you are bringing in more bacon than the requesting party, either. Disparity in the parties’ incomes isn’t necessarily the quintessential element in this type of determination and income alone usually will not be the only factor in the mix for establishing either need or ability.
If entitlement is indeed established, an evidentiary hearing on the amount of attorneys fees, court costs, and suit money is held. The Court will take a variety of factors into consideration in determining the reasonableness of an attorney’s fees and you will always be afforded the opportunity to dispute what the other lawyer is deeming as such.
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