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Can I have my attorney's fees paid by my spouse?

Everyone knows that a divorce is not fun. On top of not exactly being a walk in the park, it can also be expensive, stressful and an emotional roller coaster for you and your family. Paying for a divorce could end up being one of the most important factors in your entire case. Being able to make sure that you can afford the divorce that you are seeking is among the most critical pieces of information that you can learn about during the entire process. Starting down a road that you cannot afford to continue down is not where you want to find yourself. Plan your divorce, plan the costs, and develop a strategy for meeting the costs head-on. That is a winning strategy no matter what ends up happening in your case. 

It makes sense to inquire about whether your spouse can pay your attorney's fees. After all, it may be the "fault" of your spouse that you are even in this position. You've been a faithful and loving partner to your spouse but he or she may have committed adultery, wasted community assets, or engaged in cruel behavior toward you, and your marriage has failed as a result. You didn't want to file for divorce, after all. Rather, the divorce was thrust upon you due to the actions of your spouse. Now that you are learning what the costs are of a divorce you may want to know what the options are as far as your spouse being able to pay your attorney's fees. 

The answer that a lawyer gives whenever an answer is unclear is it depends. The judge in your case will determine whether your spouse can be ordered to pay your attorney fees if you ask for them to be paid by him or her. This analysis is performed on a case-by-case basis so we would need to know more about your specific circumstances before I can give you an answer on this subject. In a lot of divorce cases, each party pays their attorney. In others, one spouse is ordered to pay all the attorney’s fees. 

What is the process involved in asking your spouse to pay your attorney’s fees?

Unless you ask the court to order your spouse to pay your attorney's fees it won't happen. If you don't ask, you'll never know. In your Original Petition for Divorce or Counterpetition, you need to petition the court to have your spouse pay for your attorney's fees. Make sure that your attorney is aware that you want this to be included in your petition or counterpetition. Most attorneys will include a request for attorney's fees regardless of if you mention anything to him or her, but to be safe you should make this known to your attorney before the petition is filed. Otherwise, your petition will need to be amended to include the request. 

What are the factors that a family court judge will look to when determining whether attorney’s fees should be granted?

Texas is a community property state. This means that at the time of your divorce all property owned by you and your spouse is presumed to be community property and therefore subject to division in your divorce. There are exceptions to this rule but generally speaking the property and debts of your marriage at the time of your divorce are divisible. Included in this rule are attorney’s fees. Your attorney’s fees can be divided between the two of you as a part of your divorce. You can negotiate for that as a part of your divorce settlement, or you can ask the court to order your spouse to have that done. 

Property is to be divided in a just and right manner. Fairness counts, in other words. The financial wherewithal of you and your spouse will be of the utmost importance to a judge when it comes to looking at the costs of your case and who can afford to pay what. If you are a stay-at-home spouse with no outside income opportunities, then this will matter. If your spouse is a doctor with oodles of money and a high income then this will matter, as well. Expect that you will have a good chance to have your spouse pay for your attorney’s fees in this case. 

Just because a divorce is ongoing does not mean that your bills are going to stop coming in. Rent, mortgage, utilities, school tuition, etc. These responsibilities that are a part of your life will continue to need to be taken care of even after the divorce is filed. This may seem unfair but that is the reality of the situation. With this in mind, adding attorney's fees on top of this equation can be too much for you to handle if you have no income coming. Your spouse may well have to pay attorney's fees for both of you in this situation.

How do fault grounds play into how attorney’s fees are divided, if at all?

A relevant question to ask would be whether your spouse’s bad actions will have any impact on how attorney’s fees are divided. We have already discussed fault grounds in terms of how they may impact how costs and other aspects of your divorce are divided as far as property is concerned. Keep in mind that attorney’s fees are usually awarded at the end of a divorce. You can negotiate with your spouse so that attorney’s fees are paid out over time, but you may have a judge order a lump sum to be paid to you at the end of a divorce once you have submitted a bill to him or her. Make sure that you have a detailed billing statement from your attorney but not one that shows the nature of conversations that were discussed or anything else that would violate the privileges associated with the attorney-client relationship. 

It is a common practice in divorces for a judge to order both you and your spouse to produce accountings for your attorney’s fees. That way the judge can compare the bills and other costs associated with the divorce to decide if attorney’s fees will need to be divided. If not, then you will need to pay your lawyer any fees that are unpaid at that time or work out a payment plan of some sort with them. However, if you have factors that you believe are favorable to you then you should present those to the judge in your pleadings and then plan to have your attorney’s fees ready for the judge at the end of your case. 

If you can’t afford to pay your attorney….

Let’s say that you are going along through your case, and you suddenly discover that you won't be able to pay your attorney's fees. For most people, it won't be a sudden realization that you cannot afford to pay thousands of dollars to a lawyer for their fees. This will probably be a realization that you have before the case begins. You may be lucky enough to have a family member or someone else who will step up to the plate and offer to pay those attorney's fees for you temporarily until you can pay them back. They may give you some money to pay as a retainer to your spouse until you get an award for attorney's fees during the divorce case. 

You can ask for temporary attorney’s fees in your divorce by filing a motion for interim attorney’s fees. The judge can either hold a hearing on the matter or can simply address your motion and any response from your spouse to determine if interim attorney’s fees will be allowed. The attorney’s fees accrued by both sides as well as your resources will be looked at in depth to determine if attorney’s fees can be paid on an interim basis. 

How can you avoid paying attorney’s fees?

Let’s put the shoe on the other foot now. Suppose that your spouse has asked a judge to order you to pay their attorney’s fees. Are there any steps that you can take to avoid being put in a position where you could be ordered to pay for those fees? One step that you can take is to hire your attorney to argue why you should not be made to pay for your spouse's attorney fees. Simply having your attorney pay for you does not absolve you of having to pay for your spouse's attorney's fees. Rather, this is a decision that will be made based on several different factors that we have already discussed in some detail today. However, it is a useful argument to be able to make when you have your lawyer to pay and a tight budget, to begin with. 

What you and your attorney can do is present a detailed and accurate rundown of your income, your monthly bills and expenses, and any other costs that exist for you which may limit your ability to pay for your spouse's attorney fees. Simply not having the money to pay for your spouse's attorney's fees may be the best way to avoid having to pay them. Of course, if you are using community income to pay for your attorney’s fees and have drained a jointly held bank account then this would be a factor worth considering if you are a family court judge. 

Resources that are available for low-income Texans

If you are going through a divorce and have a very low or no income at all then you may wonder if there are any resources available to you that can assist you in moving your case forward. As luck would have it, yes, there are. From the very beginning of your case, you need to know that there are costs associated with simply filing for divorce. For example, it will cost you money to file an Original Petition for Divorce. If you have a very low income, then you may be able to have your court costs waived by filling out an application to have your fees waived. This is known as a statement of inability to afford the payment of court costs. By filling out the form you can tell a judge that you cannot afford to pay these basic costs associated with your divorce and that you need to have them waived. 

Your spouse may also be in a position where he or she can be ordered to help you survive financially at least until the divorce is over. For example, you can ask for temporary spousal support. Temporary spousal support will have your spouse pay you a certain sum of money each month until the divorce is complete. This may not be a large sum of money but likely would be based on your monthly expenses over and above what you can afford to pay based on your income. In your motion for temporary orders, you can ask for temporary spousal support. 

Contractual alimony comes at the end of a case when you and your spouse agree that you should be able to receive a certain sum of money for a certain period after your divorce. Contractual alimony would be negotiated using elements of contract law rather than family law. This is important to note because in the future you would not be able to enforce provisions in your divorce decree involving contractual alimony in the same way that you would spousal maintenance. As we are about to see, spousal maintenance is included in the Texas family code and a judge can enforce their orders regarding this subject. However, contractual alimony is different.

In a divorce trial, spousal maintenance can be ordered by a judge if you and your spouse do not agree on contractual alimony. It is difficult to be awarded spousal maintenance in a divorce. A judge can only award spousal maintenance if you or your spouse lack sufficient property after the divorce to be able to provide for their minimum reasonable needs. Additionally, the spouse who would be paying spousal maintenance would need to have been convicted or received deferred adjudication for a family violence offense against the receiving spouse or child within two years of the divorce having been filed. Or spousal maintenance can be ordered if you or your spouse is unable to earn enough money to meet your minimum reasonable needs due to a disability suffered by you or your child. Finally, the most common circumstance under which spousal maintenance is paid is when you and your spouse have been married for at least 10 years and there is a proven financial need for the support.

What kind of financial support can you gain from your spouse immediately? a new paragraph in some instances you may require financial support from your spouse right away. In that case, you can ask a judge to issue a temporary restraining order or temporary orders. A temporary restraining order would last for a relatively short period until a hearing can be held, or mediation can allow the two of you to resolve your matter amicably. Once you have temporary orders in place, those orders will typically last until your divorce is over.

Temporary orders in a divorce which involved children can include any orders that are necessary to promote the safety and well-being of your child. Otherwise, temporary orders involving children most typically relate to temporary conservatorship, child support, health insurance, and possession. When it comes to the property in your divorce temporary orders can also determine how property is to be used temporarily, how debts are to be allocated during the case and whether spousal support and attorney’s fees need to be paid. These are essential pieces of information that you need to be very specific about when you ask a court for these items to be paid.               

Closing thoughts on attorney’s fees in Texas divorce cases

If you want to give yourself the best possible chance to have your attorney’s fees paid for by your spouse in a divorce, then you need to be prepared. Having an organized budget that can show what your income is versus what your other responsibilities are is extremely important. The better organized and more detailed you can be the better chances you will have to have a judge order attorney's fee to be paid on either an interim or final basis after your divorce case. Also, if your spouse has an attorney, it would be in your best interest for you to consider hiring one as well. An attorney will not make decisions for you and your case but will help guide you and provide you with context to assist you with making wise decisions based on the law as well as the circumstances of your case.                         

Questions about the material contained in today's blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan

If you have any questions about the material contained in today's blog post, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free-of-charge consultations six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video. These consultations are a great way for you to look at the circumstances of your case and how the family law of Texas may impact those circumstances.

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