Can My Spouse Be Forced to Pay My Legal Fees in Divorce?

Divorce is an emotionally draining experience for everyone involved. However, your emotional well-being is not the only thing that can be drained by divorce; your bank account is likely to take a hit as well. Not only does the process require the division of assets, but each side of the divorce proceedings will create attorney fees quickly. However, the state of New York has set some ground rules regarding legal fees incurred during the termination of a marriage, and there is a chance that one side may be responsible for more than the other.

A Balancing Act: Who Pays the Most in New York Divorces?

According to the laws in New York State, the spouse who makes a larger income and/or has more income is called the “monied spouse”. The monied spouse will be legally required to help support the other spouse when their legal expenses begin to add up, as a part of New York Domestic Relations Law § 237. New York has enacted this rule as a method of ensuring that the playing ground is level for both parties. According to the law, legal expenses include fees for services such as accountants or appraisals of shared property, any fees incurred from filing paperwork with the state during the proceedings, etc.

If the monied spouse was not required to assist in leveling the playing ground for the person they’re divorcing, the potential for a power imbalance would arise. The spouse with more money could hire much more expensive and experienced legal counsel than the other spouse, who could end up self-represented or represented by attorneys with fewer qualifications.

Part of the reason New York requires the monied spouse to assist with legal fees in divorce is the understanding that divorce proceedings are emotional, and there is a risk that the monied spouse could intentionally complicate the proceedings because they have the financial means to do so. Requiring them to assist with legal fees for the spouse means that they are less likely to cause additional legal hurdles in the process, therefore keeping the process moving at a reasonable pace.

What Issues Could Impact the Division of Legal Fees in Divorce?

Requiring the spouse with more income and assets to help level the playing ground when it comes to divorce proceedings is a ground rule that most people would consider reasonable. Despite this, there are certain aspects of the legal process that could complicate whether, or how much, the monied spouse will have to pay.

  • Who has what? Even if the court comes to the determination that one spouse has a significantly larger income than the other, they will be less likely to require the monied spouse to help with legal fees if both spouses have significant resources. This happens the most in divorce proceedings involving wealthy people where both spouses can pay their legal fees comfortably even though a difference in income is present.
  • Will you settle? Courts would generally prefer to see divorce cases settled instead of litigated because it is easier for both the spouses seeking divorce and the court system overall. The courts will more often side with whichever spouse exhibits more willingness to settle when it comes to doling out the legal fees. This goes both ways; if the monied spouse is more willing to settle than the other spouse, they may not be required to pay as much of the other spouse’s legal fees.
  • Is it necessary? If the court notices that one party in a divorce proceeding is intentionally causing fees to be larger than necessary to spite their former spouse, it is likely that party will end up fronting more of the legal fees. When they are held responsible for the inflated fees they are causing, they will be less likely to inflate them further, saving time for all involved.

Contact a Divorce Lawyer Today

If you find yourself involved in difficult divorce proceedings and suspect that your spouse should be responsible for all or part of your legal fees, contact Jason M. Barbara & Associates P.C. today at (516) 406-8381 or via our contact page. Divorce is intimidating and emotionally taxing but having a talented and experienced legal team on your side can make it less complicated and easier to bear.