Divorce Attorney Scott J. Stadler

    • 01 APR 16

    Can a Court Order Attorney Fees in a Family Law Case?

    Can a Court Order Attorney Fees in a Family Law CaseWhile it is no surprise that a family law case can be a costly ordeal both financially and emotionally, there are some things that can be easy to overlook while involved in divorce proceedings. Due to the personal nature of family law cases, it can be easy to drag things out or to try and fight over every last thing, but if you are working with an attorney, the fees involved with that case can creep up on you. While this may lead some people to attempt to avoid costs by representing themselves in court, doing so can wind up hurting you in the long run. In fact, not only would you be at a disadvantage if only the other party is represented by counsel, but also, you could very well wind up paying for fees that you did not sign up for.

    Attorney Fees

    In many cases, attorney fees can be costly, and finding the means to work with an attorney in a family law case can be difficult if an individual took a break from his or her career to support the marriage. Under Florida Statute 61.16, a court may order a party to a family law case to provide for reasonable attorney fees after considering the financial conditions of both parties. While this may seem like a way to either get back at a wealthy spouse or to get free legal service, the purpose of ordering attorney fees is to facilitate equity in a case, and allow everyone the opportunity to competent legal counsel. As such, there are a few prerequisites that must be met in order to obtain attorney fees in a family law case.

    Financial Considerations

    Generally, attorney services in a family law case can build up quickly. While they may not be prohibitively expensive, the overall cost may simply be too much for some people. Because of this, the court begins the assessment of whether attorney fees are warranted by looking at the financial states of both parties.

    Not only must the court determine that the requesting spouse would be unable to afford the services of an attorney on his or her own, but also, the court must determine that the other party is able to support the attorney fees. When examining the financial situations of both parties, the court looks at both income and property owned, which can include real estate. As such, a person who earns little but who has many assets might not be able to obtain attorney fees from the opposing party.

    Reasonableness

    As can be expected, before a court is willing to award fees, the court must also look at the fees to be awarded. Even though it does not take much to accumulate a great deal of attorney fees, there are certain factors that make attorney fees reasonable. One such factor is the cost of services. Just as with most other services, attorney services can vary between practitioners, and range anywhere from low to expensive. As such, a court will likely not provide attorney fees for an individual who went out of his way to find an expensive attorney.

    Similarly, just as an attorney’s hourly fees are considered, so too are the nature of the services that were given and charged for. It is understandable for attorney fees to come at a cost, especially in lengthy litigation. If, however, an attorney attempts to stall or delay the court by filing motions or documents that do not have any merit to them, then it is unlikely that the court will award attorney fees.

    Attorney Fee Orders

    While there are a myriad of services that can qualify under attorney fees, there are generally two ways a court may order attorney fees. The first type of order for attorney fees is a temporary order. The interesting thing about an temporary order for attorney fees is that this decision can be made in the middle of the case, as opposed to at the end. In this situation, the court would need to determine that the individual requesting attorney fees would be unable to support him or herself and provide for attorney fees, and that the opposing spouse has sufficient assets to provide attorney fees for both parties.

    The next type of attorney fee order is the final order. These orders are given at the end of the case, and are the typical form of order for attorney fees.

    Steps to Obtain Attorney Fees

    Even though an individual might need attorney fees, there are certain things that must be done before a court will even consider the issue. The first thing an individual must do is to request attorney fees at the beginning of the proceedings. For the person bringing the action, the petitioner, the request for attorney fees would need to be made in the initial petition. If the person seeking attorney fees is the respondent, though, the request would need to be made in the first response to the petition. Unfortunately, courts will typically only consider requests for attorney fees that were made in the initial documents.

    Another thing that parties to a family law case must do in order to obtain attorney fees is to refrain from wrongdoing against the other spouse. Types of wrongdoing can include:

    • Domestic violence;
    • Hiding of assets;
    • Denying the other spouse visitation with a minor child; or,
    • Refusing to pay child support.

    Because the purpose of awarding attorney fees is to ensure that both parties are able to have access to competent legal counsel, and because the award of attorney fees is entirely at the discretion of the court, it is only natural for wrongdoing, especially if domestic in nature, to preclude any award of attorney fees.