When can I have my spouse pay my attorney’s fees?

Clients and potential clients ask regularly for their spouse to pay their attorneys fees and costs. Despite the fact that this is a popular request, there are generally only two ways that your spouse would be ordered to pay or contribute to your attorney’s fees in an Illinois divorce proceedings.

The first scenario where it would be appropriate for the court to order your spouse to pay your attorneys fees and costs is in a scenario where your spouse has a greater ability to pay your fees and their fees than you do to pay your own fees and costs. Sometimes this is a large income discrepancy. Sometimes this occurs if only one party has access to assets within the marital estate. This happens in many different scenarios.

The second scenario occurs when your spouse willfully and without compelling cause or justification violates a court order. This might be relative to a discovery order that wasn’t followed, or even a visitation order that is not properly being followed. You can also obtain attorney’s fees and costs for non-compliance with discovery, which also falls under the “violation of a court order” scenario.

Clients can also ask for a fee contribution hearing at the end of their case. In this scenario the court looks at the fees incurred as well as the income and property awarded to each spouse and makes a fee allocation. This doesn’t happen until the end of a case.

Clients often ask for their spouses to pay their attorneys fees and costs up front when they retain their attorneys, including their initial retainer. Unfortunately, an award of attorneys fees is never guaranteed, so you will find quickly that you still need to pay your retainer up front to your lawyer and try to obtain the fees as a reimbursement to you later in the case.

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