Unfortunately, divorce can be an expensive experience for many couples. The cost of splitting up or selling property, maintaining two places to live, and paying child support or spousal maintenance can add up quickly. In addition to these expenses, both partners will have to pay legal fees to their respective attorneys.
When contemplating a divorce, many people wonder if they can reduce their expenses by asking the judge to have their former spouse pay their attorneys’ fees. While awards of legal fees are certainly possible, they are rare.
Splitting the Costs of Divorce
When a couple divorces, the court will presume that the couple will use marital assets to pay for the divorce. This means that if the couple has resources like a savings account or other investment, then the court will expect that the couple will use these resources to pay their respective fees. If the couple does not have these resources, then the court may decide to award fees.
Inability to Pay
The most common reason why a judge would order one spouse to pay the other’s fees is in situation where one spouse is significantly better off than the other. If one spouse doesn’t work or earns much less money than the other, for example, his or her former partner could be ordered to pay his or her legal fees. But if neither spouse can afford to pay the other’s fees, the court will likely require each party to cover his or her own costs.
Usually, a motion for attorneys’ fees is made at the end of the case, though the court can decide to award fees at any time. For example, the court may decide to award fees on a temporary basis at the beginning of the case, so that one spouse can afford to hire an attorney.
The other situation where a spouse could be ordered to pay a person’s legal fees would be in cases where the judge awards attorneys’ fees as a punishment for misbehavior. For example, if a spouse makes a divorce case much more difficult than necessary by filing inappropriate motions or requests, the judge may order that spouse to pay the other person’s attorneys for wasting their time. In some extreme cases, the other spouse’s attorney or law firm can be ordered to pay attorneys’ fees if their conduct is outrageous.
Dealing With Attorneys’ Fees
In many instances, attorneys’ fees are worked out as part of the divorce settlement. The divorcing couple will usually agree to use joint assets to pay fees, or one spouse will agree to cover the costs of the less financially stable partner.
In these situations, it is in each person’s best interest to keep the cost of the fees down by avoiding protracted legal battles. Alternative dispute resolution methods often allow couples to negotiate a divorce settlement which fits their needs without running up a large legal bill.
The attorneys at Pacific Northwest Family Law use many of these methods to help divorcing couples decide on a fair and equitable support agreement, and achieve great successes using mediation, collaboration, and arbitration.
To speak with one of our experienced Washington divorce attorneys, or to learn more attorneys’ fees, contact us today by calling 509-572-3700.