Who Pays Attorney Fees in Divorce

Divorce is stressful. The cost of a divorce is even more stressful. And the burden of attorney fees can exacerbate this stress even further.

Attorney fees cover the cost of legal representation, including consultations, document preparation, and court appearances. They can quickly escalate.

Ideally, each spouse would cover their own court costs. But in reality, financial resources are often unevenly distributed between spouses. 

In some cases, a judge may order one spouse to pay the other's attorney fees to ensure equal access to competent legal representation. This is not always the case; it depends on several factors.

How attorney fees may be paid

The distribution of attorney fees in divorce proceedings is not a one-size-fits-all scenario. It can occur in several ways depending on the couple's financial situation, local and state laws, and the discretion of the court.

Each party pays their own fees

In many divorce cases, each spouse is responsible for their own legal expenses. This includes attorney fees, court filing fees, and additional costs associated with the divorce process. 

This method is common when both spouses have comparable incomes and financial resources. However, it may pose difficulties if one spouse has significantly more financial resources than the other.

Fee shifting

Fee shifting occurs when one spouse is ordered by the court to pay some or all of the other spouse's attorney fees. This typically happens when a significant disparity exists between the spouses' incomes or assets. 

The intention behind fee shifting is to level the playing field so both parties have access to adequate legal representation.

Fee shifting is available in all U.S. states. However, the specific criteria for awarding fee shifting can vary from state to state. Ultimately, it’s up to the judge to decide whether fee shifting is appropriate.

Fee awards

A fee award is when the court orders one party to pay the other's legal fees as part of the final divorce decree. This is not a guaranteed outcome; it depends heavily on individual circumstances. 

Factors such as income disparity, the complexity of the case, and whether one party has behaved unreasonably during proceedings can influence the likelihood of a fee award.

Divorce settlement agreement

A divorce settlement agreement is a legally binding document that outlines the terms of the divorce. Terms may include details about marital property division, child custody, and spousal support. 

In some cases, couples may negotiate the payment of attorney fees as part of their divorce settlement agreement. This is not dictated by a judge but rather agreed upon by the couple themselves. This method offers more flexibility and control over the distribution of legal costs, but it requires cooperation and negotiation between the divorcing parties.

Not everyone needs a divorce lawyer. You may be able to complete your divorce yourself or with minimal help from a legal service like Hello Divorce.

Hello Divorce is here for you

Navigating the complexities of divorce can be overwhelming, particularly when faced with high attorney fees. At Hello Divorce, we've developed a flat-rate platform to make legal assistance both accessible and affordable. Our range of services includes everything from DIY divorce resources to marital settlement review to legal advice.

We're also experienced in helping clients transition from contested to uncontested divorces, simplifying the process, and reducing costs. To discuss your situation and explore how we can assist you, we offer a free 15-minute phone call, which you are invited to schedule here.

Remember, you're not alone. We're committed to making your divorce process smoother and more affordable.

Divorce Content Specialist & Lawyer
Divorce Strategy, Divorce Process, Legal Insights

Bryan is a non-practicing lawyer, HR consultant, and legal content writer. With nearly 20 years of experience in the legal field, he has a deep understanding of family and employment laws. His goal is to provide readers with clear and accessible information about the law, and to help people succeed by providing them with the knowledge and tools they need to navigate the legal landscape. Bryan lives in Orlando, Florida.