In general, courts follow the “American rule” regarding attorney’s fees and order each party to be responsible for his/her own fees. However, in a family matter, including divorce, paternity, child support, property division, maintenance, or child custody, judges are authorized to order one party to pay the other’s reasonable attorney’s fees. Judges are usually reluctant to make such an order, so it is imperative to build a strong and early case for fees on one of the accepted bases. The most common reason for judges to shift fees is as a consequence for one party’s frivolous, unnecessary, or contemptuous behavior. For example, refusal to follow court orders or cooperate with requests for information, or filing repeated motions will frustrate the judge and make a fee award more likely against the offending party. Another common reason for awarding lawyers’ fees is a significant disparity of income and/or assets between the parties. Judges may require one party to pay some of the other’s fees outright, grant one party access to an account, order liquidation of an asset, or simply earmark an equal amount of funds for each party. If fees may be an issue in your case, it is important to address the issue early and lay out a solid case explaining your need for fee assistance. Attorneys’ fees often lead to serious (and expensive) disputes. I am happy to consult with you to ensure that fees in a family action are allocated fairly.
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