Divorces can be expensive. So can going back to court to enforce orders in a multitude of family issues from time-sharing to alimony payments. Many people attempt to represent themselves because of the cost of attorney’s fees. While in some circumstances (I would venture to say very few) a person may represent himself or herself quite well, in most circumstances, a person does not know all of his or her rights and does not end up with the best outcome.
Florida does allow for courts to order one party to pay the other party’s reasonable attorney’s fees and costs in certain situations to ensure that both parties have equivalent access to capable legal counsel and to ensure that one party does not have an unfair advantage over the other. The court must first consider the financial resources of both parties. The primary considerations of the court are need and ability to pay. In other words, the party asking to be awarded attorney’s fees must prove that he or she has a need. Then he or she must prove that the other party has the ability to pay.
The request for attorney’s fees must be made in the initial document filed in the case, typically the petition. If the party defending the case also wishes to ask for attorney’s fees, then he or she must ask for them in his or her first document filed, either the answer or counterpetition.
The court can grant temporary as well as final fees. The court uses the same considerations for temporary as final fees: need and ability to pay. It is important to note that one may have a need, but that does not necessarily mean that the court will find that the other party has the ability to pay. If this is the case, then the party will not be awarded attorney’s fees.
Finally, the fee must be reasonable. The court will consider the amount that the attorney is requesting and if it is in line with the standard in the community and the experience of the attorney. A court may grant an award of attorney’s fees but may lessen the amount that is requested because the court determines the amount to be unreasonable. Also, the court will consider whether or not the party and attorney have filed frivolous motions for the purpose of delaying resolution of the case. If this is the case, then the attorney’s fees may be denied.