Attorney Fees Awarded in Domestic Relations Cases

calculating attorney fees at a table with piggy bank and currency on tableDid you know that under certain circumstances one party in a legal action could be ordered to pay both parties’ attorneys’ fees?
Obviously, there are conditions that must be met. Michigan Circuit Judge David Hoort addresses these considerations in his blogs, “Spousal support/Attorney fees in a divorce action” from June 5, 2015 and “Attorney fees in a divorce action to enable a party to carry on or defend the action.” on August 19, 2015 on Blogspot.

Judge Hoort explains that in divorces, spousal support cases and other domestic actions, a judge can require one party to pay the other’s legal expenses. According to precedent, the court should consider both parties’ abilities to pay the attorneys’ fees.

Ability to pay

Judge Hoort writes in a 2015 blog, “Specifically, MCR 3.206(C) provides: (1) A party may, at any time, request that the court order the other party to pay all or part of the attorney fees and expenses related to the action or a specific proceeding, including a post-judgment proceeding. (2) A party who requests attorney fees and expenses must allege facts sufficient to show that (a) the party is unable to bear the expense of the action, and that the other party is able to pay.”

In other words, the party requesting the fees has the burden of proving that they are unable to pay and that the other party has the capability of affording the fees. According to Judge Hoort quoting, “Maake v Maake, 200 Mich App 184, 189 (1993). ‘Further, a party sufficiently demonstrates an inability to pay attorney fees when that party’s yearly income is less than the amount owed in attorney fees.’”

Those fees would be awarded only if it allows the prosecution or defense of a legal action that otherwise would not be possible.

Fees can also be requested when one party believes that the other party pushed for unnecessary legal action. Specifically, as Judge Hoort explains, when, “the requesting party has been forced to incur expenses as a result of the other party’s unreasonable conduct in the course of litigation.” Hanaway, 208 Mich App at 298., or (b) the attorney fees and expenses were incurred because the other party refused to comply with a previous court order, despite having the ability to comply. [MCR 3.206 (emphasis added).]”

White Lake Attorney explains why sometimes one party pays both sides’ attorney fees

Let’s say that in a divorce settlement a former spouse was ordered to pay alimony for five years. After four years, he or she stopped paying. The recipient has the right to take the spouse to court and could request attorney’s fees. The spouse was failing to comply with the court order to pay alimony. Attorney Kathryn Wayne-Spindler working in Hartland, Michigan and other surrounding cities has asked for and won attorney fees in many cases.

Post-Judgment Modifications

The way to avoid having to pay the other party’s attorneys’ fees is to go through proper procedures. Sometimes, alimony payers believe they have the right to stop supporting the former spouse because he or she got a job, started living with someone else, or moved away. If the alimony payer’s income changed and was no longer able to pay the same level of support, that would be another reason for reassessing alimony payments. Although these reasons may be valid, the court has to change the orders in a post-judgment modification hearing. Without updated post-judgment orders, failing to comply with the original divorce settlement orders puts the paying spouse at risk of more legal action and the bill for both attorneys’ fees.

White Lake Alimony Lawyer Kathryn Wayne-Spindler has 20 years of experience helping family law clients in Southeastern Michigan. She can provide answers to your questions about attorneys’ fees and post-judgment modifications. Contact her Milford, Michigan office at 248-676-1000. The Law Office of Kathryn Wayne-Spindler & Associates assists clients in White Lake, Commerce, South Lyon, Highland, Hartland, Fenton, Milford, Wixom, Novi, West Bloomfield, Clarkston, and many other local communities.

Written and Posted by Christine Donlon Long, Communications’ Specialist for Kathryn Wayne-Spindler & Associates