Who Pays The Legal Fees In A Florida Divorce?

Everyone knows that divorce can be expensive, and not just because of alimony payments and property division. Legal fees, such as court filings, attorney’s fees and other costs, can be significant in a divorce, which is one reason parties often attempt to litigate their divorces themselves. Having the right attorney is certainly worth the money and can save you in the long run. But many clients wonder whether they will be ordered to foot the other party’s bill, or if they can shift their own costs to the other spouse.

At Orlando Family Team, we want our clients to understand the value of what they are paying for when they retain us. That starts with having an idea of the expenses associated with their divorce and when courts can make one party pay for the other.

Legal Fees And Costs You Can Expect In A Florida Divorce

Attorney’s fees are just one expense you might incur if you get divorced. Even if you choose not to retain your own lawyer, you could be responsible for the following:

  • The opposing party’s attorney’s fees
  • Court filing fees
  • Other court fees
  • Mediation fees
  • Process server costs
  • Expert witness fees
  • Deposition expenses
  • Copies
  • Appraisal fees (e.g. for real estate)

These are only a few of the costs you might have to pay. Worse, the court could order you to shoulder an uneven burden of these expenses for the opposing party. While courts generally expect parties to pay their own fees, the law allows them to ask the court to shift those costs to the other spouse.

Factors That Can Make Divorce More Expensive

Not every divorce is the same, and that means the costs of one proceeding can be dramatically different from those of another. The fees in your case may be affected by the following:

  • How many issues are involved (whether it’s just divorce or if child support and property are involved)
  • Complex assets and debts
  • Unusual expenses for children
  • Unusual assets and sources of income
  • The relative attitudes and behaviors of the parties
  • The nature of the allegations made
  • How competent and experienced your attorney is

When Can One Party Request Court Fees From The Other?

Courts want to ensure that both parties are more or less on an even financial footing when it comes to divorce. In other words, they want to prevent one side from getting everything they want simply because they have more money to pay a high priced lawyer. Courts are especially concerned about one party being disadvantaged in divorce cases, since there are inherently personal and sensitive issues involved. For that reason, the law allows one party to request that the other pay reasonable legal fees and costs incurred.

It’s important to know that the request for an award of attorney’s fees and costs must be made in the first court filing. Failure to do so will usually make it impossible to ask for them later. If you’re the party filing for divorce, that means you include the request in your petition. If the other party filed first, you have to request them in your answer.

What Factors Will The Court Consider?

In evaluating the request for attorney’s fees and costs, the court will examine such factors as:

The financial resources of the parties. This is undoubtedly the main consideration, and is concerned with looking at both parties’ resources. And the court will look at more than just the income to see whether the parties have other assets like real estate and collectors’ items.

History of the case. Here, the court wants to know how the case has progressed from its inception. Perhaps it started out as a simple divorce, then blossomed into a complicated property division matter. Or maybe one party has been primarily driving the litigation, refusing to settle, and dragging the case out.

Merits of both parties’ relative positions. Is one party filing court papers solely to harass the other? Does it appear one spouse is stalling, refusing to go to mediation, or delaying discovery responses? An award of fees and costs can not only compensate a party for having to respond to these actions, but can deter the other from engaging in them in the future.

Whether the award is needed. If a party would have to choose between paying for their basic necessities and paying their legal costs, the court is likely to award their fees. In less obvious cases, the court will have to decide whether the requesting party has a demonstrable need for an award.

Legal Fees And Costs in a Divorce Must Be Reasonable

Courts don’t want either party driving up costs and then asking the judge to bail them out. So even if the court believes an award of attorney’s fees and expenses is appropriate, it has to decide how much is reasonable. This varies from one case to another, but the court will take into consideration the following:

  • The attorney’s legal fees versus those of other lawyers
  • Whether the party has filed frivolous motions
  • How much work was performed
  • The nature of the case

A hearing will be held to evaluate these factors, and evidence and testimony will be taken. If the court finds the requested fees and costs to be reasonable, it will order the other party to pay them. But the court may decide that the total amount requested is unreasonable, and may adjust the amount to what it considers to be reasonable.

What You Can Expect From Orlando Family Team

While we can’t predict what course your case will take, we are upfront and transparent with our costs. Where possible, we will request an award of attorney’s fees and costs to be paid by the opposing party. Divorce is hard enough without worrying how much you have to pay your lawyer. Turn to Orlando Family Team for cost-effective legal representation. Call us today to talk about your case.