What Is the Process for Obtaining Legal Fees in a Divorce?

What Is the Process for Obtaining Legal Fees in a Divorce?

Divorce can be an expensive proposition. Attorneys’ fees can climb quickly while spouses argue over child custody, alimony, property and other issues. Sometimes, a spouse will initiate a divorce proceeding believing that the other spouse will be responsible for paying the legal fees for both parties, along with all the other costs associated with the proceeding. But in actual practice, that is rarely the case.

In New York, it is customary that each spouse will pay their own legal fees unless one of two things happens:

  1. The spouses file a written fee agreement with the court detailing how much of one spouse’s attorneys’ fees and expenses the other spouse agrees to cover.
  2. One of the spouses establishes that he or she is entitled to have the other pay some or all of their legal fees under New York law.

If the spouses agree on fee assumption by one spouse, they must submit their written agreement at the beginning of the divorce process. The agreement should list each attorney’s retainer fee and hourly rate and indicate which spouse is paying the other’s fees and in what proportion. It should also include an explanation of how other costs, such as expert witness fees and court fees, will be paid.

If the legal fee issue is contested, the court can require either spouse to pay the fees and expenses the other needs to afford adequate representation. The purpose of the law is to make sure both spouses can afford to hire competent counsel so the spouse with less income is not at a disadvantage against the spouse who can afford a high-powered lawyer.

To establish entitlement to a fee award, a spouse can submit an application to the court at any point prior to the final judgment. The court will consider several factors in deciding whether to make such an award, including:

  • Income and asset disparity between the spouses
  • The reasonableness of the amount requested
  • The value and necessity of the legal services rendered
  • The complexity of the case
  • Results the lawyer achieved
  • Whether either party did things to delay the case or otherwise make the divorce more difficult
  • Which party, if any, showed more willingness to settle the case

As the divorce proceeds, the spouses may be required to abide by child support orders, alimony orders and asset distribution requirements. If a spouse willfully violates any of these orders, the court can award attorney’s fees to the spouse who needs to pay a lawyer to bring an enforcement action.

At Bryan L. Salamone & Associates, P.C., one of Long Island’s leading divorce law firms, our attorneys will answer all your questions about the legal fees you should expect to pay in your divorce matter. Call 1.631.479.3839 or contact us online today to arrange a free initial consultation. We serve Suffolk County, Nassau County and all of Long Island.

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