The Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act allows one party to recover attorneys fees from the other in certain circumstances, such as when one party is in control of the parties’ finances or has more available sources than the other. The law also provides for an award of attorneys fees when there has been a violation of an order or the litigation was a result of an improper purpose such as for the sole attempt to harass the other party.
An interesting issue arises when one party has been “intervened” in the case or is requesting to be intervened in the case as a party. In In re the Parentage of Scartlett, No. 115000 (Ill. May 29, 2013), the alleged father filed a Petition for Declaration of Parentage against the Mother. The parties were not married but the mother had adopted a child in Slovakia. The father could not legally adopt the child as he was not allowed to under Slovakian law. When the parties relationship deteriorated, the mother moved out of the home with the child. The father then filed his Petition for Declaration of Parentage on the basis that he was the de-facto, equitable and psychological parent. The mother filed a motion to dismiss the father’s petition and the trial court dismissed the father’s petition. The father appealed the case and there was more litigation that ended the parties all the way to the Illinois Supreme Court who upheld the denial of the father’s parental rights.
When the case returned to the trial level, the mother filed a Petition for Contribution to Attorney’s Fees against the alleged father. The father argued that since the Illinois Supreme Court had found that he did not have any standing and was therefore a “non-party” to the case, that he could therefore not be held responsible for contribution to attorneys fees as a non-party.
The trial judge found no precedent for either argument, but held that both parties fully participated in the case and one side lost. The losing party cannot now change his stripes because the Supreme Court said he was no longer a tiger. The Judge then ordered the non-party to contribute towards the mother’s attorneys fees.
This decision is at the trial level, but it will be interesting if the parties appeal the case so that we can get some guidance on this issue at the appellate level. Either way, it helps to know that an argument can be made that non-parties and interveners who fully participate in the proceedings and cause the other party to incur attorneys fees can be just as liable for attorney’s fees as a regular party.