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Who Pays the Legal Fees in a Divorce?

Divorces are stressful mentally, emotionally, and financially. While uncontested or amicable divorces can cost as little as $1,000, contested divorces may end up costing thousands of dollars once it’s all said and done. With that much money on the line, a lot of couples wonder who pays legal fees in a divorce. The answer is much more straightforward than some people think.

Picture of a couple sitting at a divorce attorney's desk signing divorce paperwork for the blog about legal fees in a divorce.

Who Pays Legal Fees in a Divorce?

In the majority of divorce cases, each party is responsible for their own legal fees. There are a few exceptions to this rule but when you file for divorce, or when your spouse files, you should expect to pay for your own attorney. You can petition your spouse to pay your attorney fees if:

  • You are a dependent spouse, such as a stay-at-home-parent, with little or no income. In North Carolina, a spouse that qualifies as “dependent” and is entitled to alimony or other post-separation support may be eligible to have their legal fees paid by the supporting spouse.
  • If you are a dependent spouse and your spouse has removed your name from all shared accounts or changed their direct deposit to a separate account, leaving you with little to no money.
  • If your spouse has behaved in bad faith and caused the litigation to drag out unnecessarily, unfairly increasing your attorney’s fees.

In these situations, the court aims to level the playing field in regards to finances during the divorce. Gender does not factor into these decisions and there is no law that requires one side to pay the other's legal fees based on gender (e.g. a wife cannot force a husband to pay her legal fees simply because she is a woman.) Another common misconception is that you can petition to have your spouse pay your attorney’s fees if they have cheated on you, causing the breakdown of the marriage. This is not the case and even if you are the victim of adultery, it is very likely that you will still be responsible for paying your own legal fees.

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

In some cases, yes, you may be ordered to pay your spouse’s attorneys’ fees in addition to your own. 

Here are some of the circumstances of a case in which a court may award attorney’s fees:

  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

While it isn’t a given that these cases will always result in awarded attorney’s fees, there are some cases in which a judge has been convinced of the necessity of reimbursement. 

How Are Attorney’s Fees Calculated?

The attorney fees vary from case to case, depending on each situation, and the amount of time and work required for the best outcome for the client. 

Some divorce proceedings are relatively simple, such as uncontested separations. These can cost as little as less than $1,000, with court cases of around $100. 

However, different situations may require different services. An attorney may be responsible for completing court appearances, counsel, research and investigation, settlement negotiation, preparation of pleadings and other legal documents, trial prep, and court hearings. These can all have an effect on the total cost.

How Are Attorney’s Fees Paid?

The timing of the payment can vary, as well as the way in which it is paid. 

Up-Front Costs

Many attorneys require payment up-front for their services, though an award of attorneys fees will likely not come to you until the middle of an end of a case. In this way, you are being reimbursed for those fees you paid up-front.

How is an Attorney Fee Awarded in North Carolina?

The way in which the payment is paid varies by judge and jurisdiction. The fee may be due all at once by a certain deadline—typically 60 days—or it may be due in small installments over a year. 

How and When to Ask for Attorney’s Fees

If you think you will qualify to have your attorney’s fees paid by your soon-to-be-ex spouse, you must make this request prior to the alimony hearing so that the opposing party knows you are seeking this relief. You can make this request in a pleading or motion. Your divorce attorney can advise you on the best way to make the request.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a spouse entitled to in a divorce in North Carolina?

North Carolina is an equitable distribution state. This means property and assets are allotted in a way that is considered fair, but that isn’t necessarily perfectly 50/50. In other words, the court will take each spouse's circumstances and the circumstances of the separation into account before deciding what a fair distribution looks like.

What are the eligibility requirements for a divorce in North Carolina?

Before you are able to file for divorce in North Carolina, you must have lived in the state for at least six months, and have lived separately from your spouse for at least 12 consecutive months.

How much does it cost to file for divorce in North Carolina?

To file for divorce in North Carolina, you will need to pay a $225 filing fee. If you cannot pay that fee due to financial stress, you can also apply to have it waived. 

Get Expert Legal Counsel from The Doyle Law Group in Raleigh

If you need help navigating your divorce, the team at The Doyle Law Group is here to help. We’ve guided couples through divorce for over 14 years and can help ensure you have the representation you deserve. To schedule your consultation, call us at  (919) 301-8843 or fill out our online contact form below. 

Knowledge is power. Don't pay more than you have to - especially don't get stuck with paying your ex's legal fees in a divorce. Contact our Raleigh divorce lawyers now.

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