Your spouse blindsided you with the announcement that they want a divorce, leaving you feeling completely unprepared. What can you do if you can’t afford a divorce lawyer? Can your ex be made to pay your legal fees and attorney costs?
When divorce spells financial trouble
If you are the lower earning spouse, or the spouse who took on being the “stay at home” parent to your children, the end of your marriage, especially if it was sudden, can come with a great deal of financial uncertainty. In a perfect world, spouses are able to quickly come to agreements on access to marital money and alimony and other support.
In most divorces, however, finances are a source of disagreement — and often intense conflict. The spouse who wants out of the marriage may “cut off” the other spouse from access to bank accounts or freezes credit cards or refuses to pay for any living expenses. 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 an 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 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 so, the courts essentially helps to level the playing field in the divorce and prevent economic status from determining the outcome of the matter.
Are you eligible for your spouse to pay your legal fees? Schedule a consultation with one of our highly experienced family law attorneys to understand your rights and best options. Get answers to all your questions about divorce. Please call us at 888-888-0919, or you can click the button below to get in touch.