Can I get HIM to pay for my Virginia divorce legal fees?

Posted on Jun 20, 2016 by Katie Carter

Whether or not you want the divorce, you probably feel that, given your druthers, you’d have chosen to handle things a little differently. There’s no question that facing an impending divorce case is difficult—emotionally and physically—to stomach, especially when you’re afraid that you’re going to be dragged into legal proceedings that you have no desire to experience. And not to mention the cost!
I hear from women all the time that they’d prefer to handle their divorces differently. Whether they’d prefer collaboration to litigation, or whether they’re more of the mindset to try mediation before they begin to try to negotiate things with the help of an attorney, lots of women and men disagree with each other when it comes to the specific methods they’d like to use to end their marriages. (Or, in some cases, they disagree about whether the marriage should end at all.)
I can’t solve all the problems of the world, but I do want to give you an idea of how these things typically work. Though I understand the way you’re feeling, and especially the frustration at having so little control over how things begin to move forward, there are some things we can help and other things that we can’t.
The world isn’t fair. But you already know that, don’t you? And as much as I’d like to re-write the rules to suit each particular client’s individual situation, I can’t do that.

Can I get my husband to pay my legal fees?

I hear this all the time, especially from women who don’t want the divorce in the first place, or who did everything they could to save their marriage rather than end it (which, of course, is nearly every woman).
It’s possible that your husband could pay your legal fees, but it’s probably not very likely. I’m sure we’ve all heard of women whose husbands did pay their legal fees; in fact, I hear that as the main reason why a husband should pay for legal fees. “But my friend’s husband paid for hers…” is a pretty constant refrain.
In most of the cases where I see a husband who is paying for his wife’s legal fees, he’s usually doing so by agreement. That means that, somewhere, there is an agreement out there that specifically says that husband agrees to be financially responsible for the legal expenses incurred by wife.
It happens, but not all that often. And, most of the time, even when it does happen, wife has to pony up the expenses, at least to start. In my experience, even in cases where we have an agreement, we don’t recover the total sum of the legal expenses until the end of the case. If he wants to send checks all along to cover the costs of the fees, though, we’d certainly accept it—but, as you can probably imagine, this is usually the exception and not the rule.
Believe it or not, most husbands don’t believe it is their responsibility to pay for their wife’s legal fees, even if their wife doesn’t want the divorce or doesn’t have the financial wherewithal to hire an attorney on their own behalf.
Is it fair? No. But we don’t have a ton of other options, believe it or not.
I (and the other attorneys I work with) have been to court several times over the years to litigate the issue of legal fees. In fact, in most cases, we ask for legal fees (because, of course, if we don’t ask for them, we can’t get them, and we always feel like it’s worth a try). Still, judges aren’t overly sympathetic, especially when it comes to paying the entire costs of the divorce.
From the judge’s perspective, you make a decision to hire an attorney. It’s not a secret how much it costs. The attorney asks for a retainer, talks to you about how billing is handled, and discusses their hourly rate. You may not know ahead of time exactly how the costs will add up over time, but you are certainly able to participate in a discussion relating to costs and your budget. You participate in hiring an attorney and it is presumed that you hire an attorney you can afford. After all, legally at least, you don’t even HAVE to hire an attorney to represent you in your divorce case. (Is that realistic? Probably not, but that’s what the judge thinks.)
It’s hard for a judge to justify making your husband pay for services that you personally contracted to receive. It may not seem fair, but that’s where the judge is coming from here. You made a decision, and, financially at least, you have to take on the consequences of that decision.
Is it fair, though? Probably not, especially if your case has escalated to the point where you’re being forced to pay for a more involved divorce process than you would otherwise have chosen.
But what can be done? Not a whole lot. At some point, you either have to make the decision to (1) not hire a lawyer, (2) hire a lawyer and try to draft an agreement that forces him to take on the financial costs, or (3) hire a lawyer and pay the costs yourself.

But he really has made this case worse than it has to be! Why should I have to pay all the costs associated with it?

First of all, take a deep breath. A lot of times, especially in divorce cases, things start out pretty contentious. You may be afraid that you’re headed towards an entirely litigated divorce, and the increased costs that litigation entails.
In fact, it’s probably safe to say that most of the time things start out pretty contentious. You can imagine why. Something happened that brought you (or your husband, if he hired an attorney first) into an attorney’s office. You’re upset. You’re scared. You’re worrying about the financial costs to you and the strain on your children and family. You’re wondering what’s going to happen and you’re probably feeling like your entire life is suddenly on pretty shaky ground.
Human beings are emotional. We don’t often make initial decisions based on rational thought; we jump in to something that makes us feel better, and then we rationalize a little later. If your husband has taken the first steps in your divorce case, it may very well be that he was thinking emotionally rather than rationally. It may be that this leads him to do or say or choose something that, to you, seems inconsistent or counterproductive—like launching you both headfirst into what looks, at first glance, like a litigated divorce.
But that doesn’t mean that this is where your divorce has to stay. Just because a divorce starts out contested doesn’t mean that we finish it contested; often, we end up negotiating a result and moving forward with an uncontested, no fault divorce. (In fact, that almost always happens!) Contested divorces are expensive and time consuming, and very few couples really wind up taking things this far. It may seem that way at first, but it almost always simmers down over time.
So, before you get all upset about the elevated costs, take a deep breath. Keep in mind that things things do often settle over time and, whether or not you can get him to agree to pay some or all of your legal fees, chances are it won’t be nearly as bad as you’re thinking right now.
For more information, to talk to one of our attorneys, or to get an idea about costs in a divorce case, give our office a call at (757) 425-5200.