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Can My Spouse Pay My Attorney’s Fees?

If you are going through a separation, you’ve realized how expensive it is.  From renting a new home to paying a second power bill, you have a lot more bills on your plate than you did a year ago.  And you don’t have extra money to pay these increased expenses let alone your attorney’s fees.

To top it off, before the marriage ended, you were financially dependent on your spouse.  Meaning, he or she paid for most things like the mortgage, utilities, groceries and the kids’ daycare.  Now that you two have separated, your spouse stopped paying these things.  You’ve had to hire an attorney to file a claim for spousal support and help you navigate the divorce process.

While you are grateful for your attorney, you keep wondering “how am I going to pay for my attorney?” The short answer is, you may not have to.

That’s right, you may not have to.  Or, at least, you may be able to get your spouse to pay your fees.

What do we mean by that?  Well, if you’re a dependent spouse and the court determines you’re entitled to post-separation support or alimony, the court can also decide to order your spouse to pay your reasonable attorney’s fees.

North Carolina law allows for the award of attorney’s fees in spousal support cases because it recognizes dependent spouses need to be able to hire an attorney.  More than likely, the supporting spouse has the ability to hire an attorney.  Without proper counsel, a dependent spouse won’t be evenly matched against his or her spouse’s attorney.

For the court to order your spouse to pay your attorney’s fees, you must prove 1) you’re a dependent spouse; 2) you’re entitled to alimony or post-separation support; and 3) you lack sufficient means to defray the costs of litigation.  A dependent spouse is basically someone who is financially dependent on the other spouse.  For example, you may be a part-time pre-school teacher while your spouse is an executive officer at one of the biotech firms in RTP.  Grounds for the award of alimony vs. post-separation support are slightly different and can be found here.  As for lacking sufficient means, the court will look at several factors to determine whether the dependent spouse should be awarded attorney’s fees.  For instance, the dependent spouse may have access to a large retirement fund.  This access could sway the judge’s opinion in deciding whether to award attorney’s fees and how much.

If the judge does decide to award attorney’s fees, the fees must be reasonable.  Tons of appeals have been devoted to figuring out exactly what “reasonable” means.  For the purposes of attorney’s fees, it has to do with the skill of your attorney, the time involved in your case, and the usual fees charged under similar circumstances, among other factors.

If you are a dependent spouse, it is important to have an experienced family law attorney fighting in your corner.  Don’t let the expense of litigation stop you from protecting your rights.  Contact our office for a consultation today.