For many people, wives in particular, their spouses control most of their family’s finances. As a result, these spouses can feel stuck in a relationship without the means to hire an attorney. To alleviate these problems, the courts have created a provision to allow one spouse to contribute to the other spouse’s fees.
Pursuant to Section 508(a), “the court from time to time, after due notice and hearing, and after considering the financial resources of the parties, may order any party to pay a reasonable amount for his own or the other party’s costs and attorney’s fees. Interim attorney’s fees and costs may be awarded from the opposing party, in a pre-judgment dissolution proceeding in accordance with subsection (c-1) of Section 501 and in any other proceeding under this subsection. At the conclusion of any pre-judgment dissolution proceeding under this subsection, contribution to attorney’s fees and costs may be awarded from the opposing party in accordance with subsection (j) of Section 503 and in any other proceeding under this subsection. Fees and costs may be awarded in any proceeding to counsel from a former client in accordance with subsection (c) of this Section.”
If the financial “bread winner” spouse has access to marital bank accounts and the other spouse has no financial resources to hire an attorney to represent her in the divorce proceedings, a judge can order the other party to pay for the spouse’s attorneys fees as they are earned, or prospective attorney’s fees. It is important to note that attorneys fees awarded during the dissolution may be awarded against that party’s interest. In other words, this amount will be deducted from any final award of property. The rationale is that the spouse would have paid for his/her own attorneys fees if he/she had access to the accounts to begin with.
Another form of contribution to attorneys fees is a final petition for contribution at the end of a dissolution case. In this situation, the amount would not be against that party’s interest, but is based on the disparity of income and the fact that the bread-winner spouse will continue to make money while the other spouse likely will not. Whether attorneys fees will be awarded and the amount awarded is solely in the discretion of the judge. In addition, most attorneys will require an initial retainer before taking your case, and then will seek attorneys fees from the other party should the matter be prolonged. It is important to note, however, that whether a judge orders your spouse to pay your fees or not, you may still be under an obligation to pay your attorney pursuant to the retainer contract you may have signed with them in the beginning.
Talk with an attorney about possibly getting your spouse to either front or contribute towards your attorney’s fees in your dissolution proceeding.