When one spouse feels at an economic disadvantage in divorce, they often want to know whether the courts can make their higher earning spouse pay their attorney fees. Fortunately in New Jersey, one spouse paying for the other’s divorce attorney is a possibility, so long as the courts find certain factors present.
Let’s take a look at the law around this and how it could apply to your situation.
Is your spouse interfering with your access to marital finances?
Divorce can get ugly, especially when it comes to marital finances. Some spouses find themselves not only facing the end of their marital relationships, but also the end of any kind of financial safety net as their spouse “cuts them off” from bank account or freezes credit cards or refuse to pay alimony orders. In other situations, financial abuse may have occurred in the marriage for years.
Lack of financial access and/or support not only forces disadvantaged spouses to struggle paying for basic expenses, but as the divorce process gets underway — with all its deadlines and court dates — hiring attorney can feel completely out of reach.
Here is where it is very important to know about New Jersey statute N.J.S.A. 2A: 34-23. This section of New Jersey’s Alimony Reform law outlines the ability of the courts to order one spouse to pay the other spouse’s retainer and fees for expert and legal services “when the respective financial circumstances of the parties make the award reasonable and just.”
The courts examine several key factors to make a decision of whether to award attorneys fees, and if so, how much to award. These factors include:
1. The finances of each spouse;
2. The amount of the fees requesting to be covered;
3. Reasonableness of the positions of the parties;
4. Ability to pay for the fees; and
5. Any previous awards of attorney fees.
For example, if one spouse is a head surgeon at a large hospital and the other spouse has stayed home to raise the couple’s special needs child and has zero outside income, it may be reasonable to ask the courts to have the high earning spouse pay some or all of the at-home spouse’s attorney fees. In doing this, the courts essentially help to level the playing field in the divorce and prevent economic status from determining the outcome of the matter.
A legal consequence for acting in bad faith
The courts may order the paying of attorney/legal fees in other situations that unrelated to income disparity. The courts are extremely sensitive to either spouse acting in “bad faith” during the divorce. For example, if a spouse hid considerable assets that were found out and the entire divorce settlement needed to be recalculated, the courts may order the spouse who acted in bad faith to pay the other spouse’s legal fees to cover added court hearings that would not have happened had no assets been hidden.
A judge may also award attorney costs if the other spouse purposely disobeyed a court order and forced the other party to file an enforcement action. This is also considered acting in bad faith.
Do these rules apply to your situation? Learn your rights and get your case evaulated by contacting us today to schedule a consultation with one of our family law specialist attorneys. Get a strategy that you can immediately use to make progress in your case. Call us at 888-888-0919, or please click the green button below.