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Attorney Fees in Divorce

Can I Make My Spouse Pay My Attorney’s Fees in Our Divorce?

All attorney client relationships are based on first party contracts, meaning that Initially when you hire our office, as well as ultimately in your case, our firm has to look to the client who hired us for payment.  

Although attorney fees are often a necessary aspect of a fair, equitable and peaceful divorce, often the process creates yet another item that has to be addressed in the divorce case process.  Not only do you and your spouse have to work through dividing assets and sharing or determining custody (if there are children involved), but each side will have attorney fees to address each area of the divorce and that becomes an additional topic that has to be worked through. Potential outcomes are that you and your spouse each pay your own attorney’s fees and costs, one party covers 100% of the other party’s attorney’s fees and expenses or one spouse covers some portion or partial share of the other spouse’s attorney fees and expenses.

One thing we are often asked in either the initial consultation or in the planning meeting to determine a client’s goals for the divorce case process is whether one spouse can get the other spouse to pay their attorney fees and/or expenses in the litigation? Most family law attorneys charge by the court which means that you will be billed for the time you use in meeting with, speaking with your attorney, asking your attorney to prepare documents, asking your attorney to prepare for court appearances and developing the best individualized approach and arguments for your case. One of the best ways that you can minimize and control your attorney fees and expenses is to work with your lawyer and their team to complete projects and assignments requested, assimilate information and documents in the format requested and create and prepare outlines and other things when requested by your lawyer’s office. For each hour that you spend preparing documents that saves your lawyer spending that time you are saving the lawyer’s hourly rate off of the ultimate cost of your divorce case.  If you have a great lawyer who you trust, remember, it is important that he or she take the steps necessary to adequately represent your interests. There are occasions when having zealous legal advocacy make a sizeable impact in the outcome of your case, the adage that “you get what you pay for” rings especially true in divorce cases. Some individuals might think they are better served representing themselves to save money and have one less issue to determine in the case. However, generally if you try to represent yourself, you will be at a significant legal disadvantage if your spouse has an aggressive and knowledgeable family law attorney

Generally in the Kansas City area, with Pingel Family Law serving cases in both, Kansas and Missouri, the courts are considered “American Rule” courts in regard to attorney fees. This means that all things being equal both parties are going to cover their own attorney fees and expenses. However, there are several exceptions to this general principal.

Do I have an opportunity to qualify for an award of attorney fees?

If one spouse earns significantly more than the other spouse, that is a situation where a court will consider, in equity, awarding the lower-income earning spouse some attorney fees and expenses. This is because one spouse, earning a much higher amount, is more capable of covering and enduring the burden of attorney fees and expenses than the stay-at-home spouse or the lower income earning spouse.  Of course, in making the decision of determination as to how much of your attorney fees and expenses you should be awarded as the lower income earning spouse the court will consider a variety of different factors which you should discuss in additional detail with your lawyer.

Another ground the court will consider in an award of attorney fees is fault. This can encompass fault that created the necessity for the divorce or commonly, involves fault during the divorce case process. If one party engages in litigation misconduct, either by failing to cooperate with discovery, failing to disclose assets, engaging in behavior that complicates the court’s determination of child custody issues or other similar behaviors, the court may consider awarding the aggrieved spouse some attorney fees and expenses that are representative of the amount the court estimates the wronged spouse was required to spend to address the inappropriate conduct of the other spouse. 

How Do I Ask for Attorney’s Fees?

The spouse requesting an award of attorney fees and expenses must petition the court for either his or her initial case filing or on a temporary basis to make a request for an award of attorney fees from the judge. If attorney fees are needed, the request is generally made early on in the case to allow the spouse to access litigation funding during the course of the case. 

An Advance on Asset Distribution

As a final measure, if you need attorney fees and expenses and the court does not award them, there is an option to request an early or temporary distribution of marital property or equity to allow you to fund the attorney fees needed to proceed with the case. 

Although it seems ironic, you may need an attorney to help you prove that you are unable to afford an attorney. The attorneys at Pingel Family Law are experienced in assisting clients with negotiating or requesting relief from the court for an award of attorney fees and expenses. There are many different potential arguments to make to seek attorney fees in your divorce case and it is important that they be made in the best way possible to maximize your opportunity for success. At Pingel Family Law, we can provide you customized and creative legal separations in a variety of family law cases involved legal separation, divorce, child custody, child support and maintenance. Contact us today to arrange for a consultation to address the unique needs of your case. 

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