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Collecting Attorney Fees From Your Ex-spouse

Attorneys are expensive (though sometimes not having an attorney is VERY expensive), but the law says that both parties should have access to legal representation.  At the start, if one side has the money to hire an attorney and the other does not, the courts will often order some amount of attorney fees payable by one party to the other.  The court has wide discretion, and must consider the party’s ability to pay, as well as the needs and incomes of both parties.  Often, the amount ordered is far less than attorneys actually charge.

Sometimes, the court may order attorney fees paid because of one side’s bad conduct, like filing papers just to harass the other side, or refusing to follow a court order.  However, this is rarely done, as the judge is essentially punishing the person, and while the conduct may seem bad or unwarranted from your point of view, judges see a great deal of questionable conduct.  The judge must also take care to avoid discouraging people from being vigorous in presenting their side.

Finally, even if you get an order for the other side to pay some amount, collecting it may be a problem. Public agencies may help collecting child support, but with other orders, you are on your own.  Usually, you have to use ordinary collection means, like recording an Abstract of Judgment or collection through the Sheriff’s Civil Division.  Self-help books are available, but the process will be time-consuming and frustrating.  The best plan is to make attorney fees part of a final agreement dividing property, so that no collection is required.