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Can I Be Ordered To Pay My Spouse’s Attorneys’ Fees?

can i be ordered to pay attorney fees

The answer is YES, related to certain claims and circumstances. When you begin your family law case, it imperative that you discuss your exposure to paying fees awarded by the court or having those fees awarded to you.

Claims where attorney’s fees are awarded are as follows:

  1. Child Custody
  2. Child Support (when inadequate support is being paid)
  3. Post-separation Support
  4. Alimony
  5. Contempt if relates to a claims were fees can be awarded
  6. Sanctions related to failure to comply with local rules or North Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure

NC Statute for Child Custody and Support Fees

With child custody and child support, the statute provides the following:

  • 50-13.6. Counsel fees in actions for custody and support of minor children.

In an action or proceeding for the:

  • custody or support, or both, of a minor child, including a motion in the cause for the modification
  • revocation of an existing order for custody or support
  • or both

The court may in its discretion order payment of reasonable attorney's fees to an interested party acting in good faith who has insufficient means to defray the expense of the suit.

Before ordering payment of a fee in a support action, the court must find as a fact that the party ordered to furnish support, has refused to provide support which is adequate under the circumstances existing at the time of the institution of the action or proceeding.

However, should the court find as a fact that the supporting party has initiated a frivolous action or proceeding, the court may order payment of reasonable attorney's fees to an interested party as deemed appropriate under the circumstances.

NC Statute for Post-Separation Support

With post-separation support and alimony, the status provides the following:

  • 50-16.4. Counsel fees in actions for alimony, post separation support.

At any time that a dependent spouse would be entitled to alimony pursuant to G.S. 50-16.3A, or post separation support pursuant to G.S. 50-16.2A, the court may, upon application of such spouse, enter an order for reasonable counsel fees, to be paid and secured by the supporting spouse in the same manner as alimony.

How Does this Impact My Raleigh Divorce Attorney Fees?

It is important to note that attorney’s fees are not recoverable, related to equitable distribution except under very specific circumstances.

A case for equitable distribution can require significant attorney and paralegal time, so it is important to understand that you need to make arrangements to pay for your attorney’s fees and not depend on a future award of attorney’s fees to offset that cost in most common situations.

How are Attorney Fees Paid?

Typically hearings are held on the issue of attorney’s fees either during the hearing on the claim entitling you to the award or a separate hearing could be held at the end of the trial on all issues.

How the claim is handled can vary by Judge or Jurisdiction. An attorney’s fee affidavit will be submitted outlining the amount of times spent on the particular claim.

Opposing counsel may argue the attorney’s time spent or amount charged is unreasonable. Ultimately, the judge will make the decision as to whether to award attorney’s fees and how much. Judges are given wide discretion on this issue, so as long as appropriate evidence is offered and contained in the order, they can be difficult to change as part of an appeal.

Prepare to Pay Up Front Costs

Because fees are awarded in the middle or end of the case, most attorneys will require payment up front for their services. It is better to think of an award of attorney’s fees as a reimbursement to you for attorney’s fees you have paid rather than expecting an attorney to wait for an award to be made and paid.

How is an Attorney Fee Awarded in North Carolina?

The manner the fees are to be paid can also differ by Judge or Jurisdiction. I have seen large sums due in 60 days, and large sums being paid in small installments over a year or so, it is up to the judge. Again, this is why it is better to think of an award of attorney’s fees as reimbursement for amounts paid and not a requirement to keep your case going.

You should explore other options to keep your case moving forward such as loans or withdrawals against retirement accounts, personal loans, or credit cards as a few examples.

Schedule a Consultation with a Raleigh Family Lawyer

The attorneys at our Raleigh Family Law practice would welcome the opportunity to speak with you about attorney’s fees and how they may impact your unique situation. Please contact our office at 919-301-8843 or complete the form below to schedule your consultation today

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