Can a Judge Order Your Spouse to Pay Legal Fees After a Separation?

No matter the circumstances, dissolving a marriage can be mentally and emotionally draining. If your spouse is the primary earner in your household, you may wonder how you will be able to afford the costs associated with a divorce

In some cases, you may want to request to have your former spouse pay for your legal fees as part of the divorce. 

What are the legal fees involved in divorces?

Generally, when spouses are in divorce proceedings, each party is responsible for their own attorney and legal fees. 

Some of the services provided in a divorce proceeding include: 

  • Researching current laws and statutes that apply in the case
  • Creating fair conditions for child support and legal decision making
  • Collecting and examining evidence 
  • Drafting legal documents and filing them with the court
  • Generating options for the distribution of assets and debt between spouses
  • Representing the client during court proceedings
  • Preparing for appeals

The final amount of your legal fees will vary given the complexity and time constraints of the case, but generally, you should expect to pay each of these costs associated with your case. 

Can the court order my spouse to pay for my legal fees?

The Arizona divorce laws permit the Court to order one spouse to pay some or all of the other spouse’s attorney fees and costs. Specifically, ARS Section 25-324 states that a judge can order one side to pay a reasonable amount to the other after weighing out the financial resources available to each.

Arizona law makes it clear that if both parties have taken a partially reasonable position, the courts will look primarily at the disparity of incomes between the parties when determining who should pay any legal fees. 

What does the court consider when awarding legal fees?

The Arizona divorce statute outlines two bases for a family court judge to award attorney’s fees. The first basis is your spouse’s relative ability to pay. If one spouse has a high income and a lot of assets while the other party has a much lower salary range, then that may be a basis on which to award attorney’s fees to the low-income party. This can be more common when one spouse was a stay-at-home parent during the course of the marriage, for example.

If a party has been unreasonable in the positions or actions they take during the course of the proceeding, it can also affect the orders a judge puts forth. 

For example, you can ask the court to order your spouse to pay your attorney fees any time your spouse refuses to consider reasonable settlement attempts, forcing the case to go back to the court. 

If you are willing to compromise with your spouse, but he or she is determined to prolong the case by disregarding reasonable offers, the court may agree that you deserve to have your legal bills paid. 

Other examples of unreasonable acts that could warrant payment of legal fees include:

  • Violating court orders
  • Bringing motions that are a waste of the court’s time
  • Taking positions contrary to the law
  • Taking positions that are clearly not in the children’s best interests

The more unreasonable your spouse acts, the more likely it is that your spouse could be ordered to pay for your lawyer’s time. 

Understanding Your Options After a Separation 

Divorce and family law cases can be complex and stressful. You need a family law firm that listens to your needs and provides highly skilled representation. Contact Cohen Family Law in Phoenix, AZ, to connect with attorneys who are ready to work for you.