By Robert E. Fravel, Esq
Relationships where one spouse is the breadwinner and makes significantly more money than the other spouse are quite common. And when these relationships sour, the thought of getting a divorce can seem quite daunting or even impossible to the spouse with few financial resources. “How can I afford an attorney to represent me throughout the divorce or pay for all the court filing fees and expenses?” If you are in this type of situation, there is hope!
In these types of situations, it is possible for a court to award counsel fees and expenses in order to “promote the fair and impartial administration of justice by enabling the dependent spouse to maintain or defend the …divorce without being placed at a financial disadvantage”. Basically, the law wants to make sure that both parties’ rights are protected in a divorce proceeding and that one party cannot financially strongarm the dependent spouse. However, an award of counsel fees is far from automatic. They are awarded on a case by case basis, after the court has reviewed a number of factors which include: the size of the estate (financial resources) of the dependent spouse requesting counsel fees; the ability of the non-requesting spouse to pay said fees; the value of the services rendered; and the assets to be divided as a result of the divorce. Another factor that must be established is actual need. “Need” may be inferred where there exists a gross disparity of income between the parties.
The court may also consider awarding alimony pendente lite (“alimony pending litigation”) to be paid to the dependent spouse during the course of the divorce proceedings, because one of the purposes of alimony pendente lite is to provide a dependent spouse the funds necessary to properly litigate the divorce. This award may also involve divorce “expenses and costs”, which can include experts, appraisers, accountants, deposition costs, court reporter fees, etc. Along with permitting the payment of counsel fees pending the litigation, the Divorce Code also permits the payment of counsel fees and expenses at the onset of the divorce to cover the cost of legal work to be performed in the future.
If you find yourself trapped in a soured marriage because you can’t afford to pull yourself out, find time to sit down with an experienced family law attorney. The law may permit your spouse to pay for your divorce.