Here we are again – talking about attorney’s fees. It’s really one of the biggest issues, because everyone wants an attorney, but no one wants to pay what it costs. In almost ever case I’ve ever worked on, there has been a point where my client has asked me what she needs to do to get her husband to pay for her attorney’s fees.
The thing is… It really almost never happens. It could – it’s possible, at least theoretically – and we often DO list that we plan to ask for them when we do things like file complaints or motions, but it’s certainly not probable.
How can I get him to pay for my divorce attorney’s fees?
Okay, okay – I get it. You’re insisting.
Pretty much the only way you can get him to pay for your attorney’s fees is if he AGREES to pay your attorney’s fees. It happens, sometimes. Admittedly, it doesn’t happen all that often, but I HAVE seen it happen!
Generally speaking, we can get him to do almost anything, if he’s willing to agree to do it. Even things that the court wouldn’t normally order can happen, if he agrees to it! Attorney’s fees are just one of those things.
If you DO go to court, though, you should be prepared for the judge to NOT award fees. Judges usually say that each party is responsible for his or her own fees, and that includes hiring an attorney who he or she can actually afford. So, yeah, you really should pay attention when your attorney is discussing his or her hourly rate, the retainer fee required, and how additional costs must be paid in order to keep your account current with the firm you’ve chosen.
When are attorney’s fees awarded in court?
We do sometimes get attorney’s fees, but it’s usually related to the other party’s bad behavior. I don’t mean because he was mean to you or because he’s a narcissist or a generally terrible person to be around; I mean legally his behavior was bad. Say, for example, we requested discovery. He didn’t respond. We sent a deficiency letter. He didn’t respond. If we then have to go to court on a motion to compel, for example, we’d ask for fees – not ALL of your fees, mind you, but your fees related to the unnecessary additional steps you had to take to compel him to answer the discovery.
Our separation agreements, too, often contain wording about fees. If you have to go to court to enforce a provision of the agreement, you can ask for fees. I had that happen once, not too long ago. We had agreed in the separation agreement that child support would be payable pursuant to the guideline figure, but when we agreed, we didn’t have a copy of husband’s pay stub to determine his actual pay. Once we did, though, and we calculated it, he refused to pay. In fact, he insisted on a whole hearing about child support, so he could argue that he deserved a downward deviation of his child support! (The judge was NOT pleased.) We got child support awarded pursuant to the guidelines, but we also got some of our attorney’s fees (it was a flat amount, I think, but I forget exactly how much — $1500, maybe?) because we had to file a motion to get child support officially ordered. So annoying, right? It didn’t even cover all of our attorney’s fees (because there were a couple other issues pending, too, all of which were related 100% to his pigheadedness), but it was something and both my client and I were happy about it!
What do you mean, REASONABLE attorney’s fees?
Often, judges make sure to add in a disclaimer that fees must be reasonable. In agreements where I’ve seen attorney’s fees included, there’s the proviso that those fees must be reasonable. That just means “not excessive”. There’s a pretty wide range of what’s “reasonable” when it comes to attorney’s fees – probably when you see unreasonable fees, you’ll know it!
It’s not reasonable to go crazy in the hopes that someone else will pick up the tab, or even if your soon-to-be ex has already agreed to pay your fees. I’ve seen at least one case where husband agreed to pay for fees when the judge later decide to impose his own restriction of reasonableness, and deny a good bit of our client’s requested fees. Judges have a lot of discretion, so it’s a good idea to be conscientious – regardless or whether you or he will pay the bill later on down the line!
But I can’t afford an attorney!
I know. There’s often a disparity in incomes between the parties, and its always harder on one of you to hire an attorney than the other.
If you’re truly impoverished, talk to legal aid and see whether they can help you. It’s not a foolproof system, but it’s the best we’ve got.
Otherwise, consider whether it’s worth doing this without an attorney. Get the information you need to make this decision – request a free copy of our books, attend a seminar, or read our blogs and other articles (hey, you already started doing that!). There’s a ton of information out there, so I’m sure you’ll be able to figure out what the best decision is for you.
Many of our clients get money from friends and family, or take out additional loans. I know it’s scary to think about, but keep in mind that in most cases we’re talking about assets worth AT LEAST tens of thousands of dollars – often hundreds of thousands of dollars, and pretty frequently even in the millions of dollars. A divorce attorney, by comparison, costs far less than you stand to lose if you are poorly represented in court or accept an agreement that is less than your due.
It’s not easy, but the decision is yours. Still, you should know that its probably very, very unlikely that a judge would order that anyone else be responsible for your attorney’s fees. For more information or to talk to a licensed and experienced Virginia divorce and custody attorney about your case, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.