Do I have to pay Her Divorce Attorney Fees?

Well, a portion of them, anyway. Typically, the husband (who has a job, usually) comes into the office, having been served a complaint about divorce and a summons. Frequently, there is also a motion (and the hearing is already scheduled, for about a week down the road) for an attorneys fees award in favor of the wife, among other things.

They might want his house, it doesn’t bother him. They might want his kids, that doesn’t bother him. They might even want his Corvette, which he hand-restored over the last five years. Doesn’t phase him. But they want an attorneys fees award, and he goes ballistic: I get the quote which is at the top of this page. Now, why is that?

Typically, it’s because the wife doesn’t have any money

A little further investigation and I sometimes learn that there’s no money because HE TOOK IT. (Do you have any investment accounts? “Well, there was one at Merrill Lynch, but I took that and moved it to Prudential, under my brother’s name….”)Well, cool, Harry. And smart, too. Yessir. Do you have any idea how the judge is going to feel about THAT?  Or how you’re going to feel after that judge is through with you?

The main rationale behind the attorneys’ fees award is this:

There is a marital estate, so both parties are going to get SOMETHING, and we are going to give one party an advance against the share of the estate so that what needs to be done now can get done. It’s commonly the wife that has no ready assets, but it doesn’t have to be: it might be the husband. There are a few rules (they tend to vary with the county, and sometimes with the judge). Generally, to receive an award of attorneys fees, you have to show:

  1. The person asking is unemployed, or marginally employed.
  2. The person’s spouse is employed, or very-well-employed.
  3. The person asking has no ready assets from which to pay an attorney.

If there is any doubt, the award is going to be made

The judge can always adjust things later if he’s convinced he made an award that he shouldn’t have.

As you can see, that gets attorneys fees into the hands of one who otherwise couldn’t hire an attorney, and it gets them there immediately. That means that an attorney for this person gets hired immediately, at the beginning of the case. This has the effect of getting a proper pleading filed (complaint or answer, etc.) and generally makes the judge’s life easier. Coincidence, surely.

It also tends to keep things on an even keel, so that one party (with money) isn’t going to steamroll over the other party, who has no money.

The award of attorneys fees, early in the case, tends (as of this writing) to be around a thousand dollars. If that attorney can show, later in the case, that more fees were expended (more work required) because Husband (or Wife, let’s be fair) was being a bully or hiding assets, or generally being obstructionist, more fees can be asked for, and will likely be awarded, if there are good reasons. It’s not that common, but it can be done.