Family law disputes carry heavy financial and emotional burdens. It is no surprise that the issue of having the other spouse pay attorney’s fees is a common question.
In a case called Williams v. Williams, the New Jersey Supreme Court discussed how attorney’s fees are decided in divorce cases. In divorce, the court has discretion to award attorney’s fees to either spouse. The court will look at a variety of factors including the requesting party’s need and the other party’s ability to pay. A court will also look at each party’s resources, each party’s equitable share of the marital estate, and the complexity of the case. In addition, the attorney’s fees must be reasonable. The judge will look at how much the attorney is charging, the novelty of the case, and how much time an attorney should reasonably have spent on the case before deciding how much of the fees should be awarded. Each party’s behavior during the divorce and whether they acted in “bad faith” is also a factor. The court will consider whether one party filed too many unnecessary motions, or if one party’s behavior was so egregious that it required the other spouse to file motions, whether they refused to participate in good faith in settlement negotiations, and similar actions.
For custody cases that are outside of divorce, the rules are somewhat different. Where one parent is disobeying a previous child custody order, New Jersey statute provides for several different types of consequences. Among the possibilities is the award of economic sanctions against the offending parent. In other words, if the other parent is intentionally and willfully denying you the parenting time that you have been awarded in a previous order, then you may be awarded your attorney’s fees. The logic behind this is that you never would have had to spend that money in the first place, but for the offending parent’s wrongdoing. Therefore, the offending parent should be responsible for reimbursing you for the fees.
In cases involving noncompliance with alimony or child support orders, the law also provides a possibility for economic sanctions. Again, the thought process is that the non-offending parent never would have had to hire an attorney if not for the offending parent’s refusal to abide by a previous order. Therefore, the offending parent should be responsible for bearing the burden of the economic issues of going back to court.
If you want to know more about attorney’s fees and when they may be available in family law cases, contact us today at (732) 479-4711 for an appointment. We have experience in obtaining these awards for our clients