If an attorney is representing you in a divorce, custody and/or support action, you will need to pay him or her. Most attorneys (including me) charge an hourly fee, so the total fees depend on the amount of time your attorney spends working on your case.
Some attorney’s fees are necessary, but there are steps you can take to reduce unnecessary attorney’s fees. For example, don’t expect your attorney to be your therapist. Divorce is a very stressful situation, but you are better off engaging a professional, licensed, experienced therapist who is focused on your mental health. Also, be prepared when you talk with your attorney. Keep a list of questions as things come up and go through that list during your conversation. Use your time and money wisely.
Now for the $64,000 question – Can you expect your spouse to pay your attorney’s fees in a divorce? The short answer is “Probably not.” Let’s consider the general rule, then the exceptions. The general rule under the PA Divorce Code is that each spouse will pay their own attorney’s fees. It doesn’t matter who wanted the divorce or who did anything right or wrong during the marriage. If one spouse earns less, he or she may receive financial support from the other spouse during the divorce process. One reason for that support is to help the lesser-earning spouse afford his or her attorney’s fees.
There are two exceptions to the general rule. The first is where one spouse earns much, much more than the other spouse and there are few marital assets to distribute and the lesser-earning spouse did not receive support sufficient to pay attorney’s fees during the divorce proceedings. In this situation, the court may decide it’s fair to have the higher-earning spouse (or the spouse with a large amount of non-marital assets) help pay the other spouse’s attorney fees.
The second exception is where one spouse makes the divorce process much more difficult and costly than it should have been for the other spouse. The description frequently used is “obdurate, dilatory or vexatious” behavior. That means one spouse was extremely uncooperative, extremely unresponsive or extremely focused on making life difficult for the other spouse. Notice how many times I used “extremely” – this classification is reserved for the truly outrageous situations that are difficult to believe unless you experience them. This is not the vast majority of divorce actions, where spouses do not get along and may not be on their best behavior.
If you live or work in the central Pennsylvania area, including Carlisle, Harrisburg, Hershey and surrounding communities and would like to discuss attorney’s fees in divorce or any other family law or estate planning or administration issue, please contact me.