Recovering Lost Wages for Time in Court?

Time in court can often mean time away from your employment. Especially when you are representing yourself, pro se. Under 750 ILCS 5/508(b), Section 508(b) of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act, the Court has the authority to award attorneys’ fees to one party or the other when the Court finds one litigant caused the fees without justification.

Nonetheless, the Illinois Appellate Court recently held that a Du Page County trial court overstepped its authority when it awarded attorneys’ fees, in the form of lost wages, to a pro se litigant. See In re Marriage of Pickering, 2016 IL App (2d) 150898

The trial court awarded a pro se petitioner $1,965.00, which represented 32.75 hours of work at $60 per hour.

The court stated:

“You say there is no provision in Illinois for me to award lost wages to a pro se litigant. So what you are saying is that a pro se litigant who spends all of their time and loses time from work is at a disadvantage to the person who pays the attorney because the person who pays the attorney has to pay nothing because they can come back and say, well, the other side should pay for my attorneys fees, but the person loses time because they are representing themselves doesn’t get to ask for that same benefit. I find that to be, and maybe I will get this overturned on this, but, I think that fundamental fairness says that a pro se litigant shouldn’t be penalized for representing themselves.”

The trial court was overturned. The Appellate Court said that the trial court lacked the authority to make the award. “However, desirable it might have been as a matter of policy or fairness, there is no legal basis to require respondent to pay petitioner for time that she spent representing herself.” See In re Marriage of Pickering.

Until lawmakers provide for such a remedy in the statute, there is no basis in law to compensate the pro se litigant.

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