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Can My Spouse Make Me Pay Her Divorce Attorney Fees in Georgia?

by Sharon Jackson  on January 29, 2024 under 

Although your spouse may threaten to make you pay for their attorney's fees in your divorce proceedings, such an order is not automatically granted in family law cases. Under Georgia Code 19-6-2, your spouse can be granted attorney's fees in a divorce but this decision is at the discretion of the court.

The court must consider the financial circumstances of both parties when determining the amount of attorney's fees, if any, to be awarded to either party. This means that the judge will thoroughly evaluate factors such as income, debts, and assets before deciding on whether to award attorney's fees. They will also hear testimonies from both you and your spouse before making the decision.

This process resembles the determination of alimony, as the judge assesses whether one party can cover legal fees while considering the other party's need for financial assistance for legal representation. However, it's important to note that despite your spouse's request for attorney's fees, there is no guarantee that the judge will approve such a request in your particular case.

Instances When Attorney’s Fees is Awarded in a Georgia Divorce

Attorney's fees may be granted either during a temporary hearing or after a final trial. This allowance aims to ensure that a spouse, who has limited financial means, can obtain necessary legal representation. If awarded, funds for a lawyer will come from either the shared marital assets or the opposing spouse's resources.

Here are some cases where attorney’s fees are granted in a Georgia divorce:

A dependent spouse who is in need

In situations where one spouse is financially dependent and lacks the necessary funds, the court can award them attorney's fees.

An individual is eligible for post-separation support if the court determines that they are substantially dependent on the supporting spouse for financial maintenance. A common example is that of a stay-at-home parent who has sacrificed their earning potential as they prioritized raising children and managing the household.

To request the judge's approval for attorney's fees, the dependent spouse must initiate the court petition. This should ideally be done at the start of the divorce proceedings, enabling the dependent spouse to secure competent legal representation early on.

It is important to note that even working spouses can be classified as dependent spouses. In certain situations, one spouse may have sole ownership of all financial accounts and assets, leaving the dependent spouse without the means to cover their attorney's fees.

The bad faith of the other spouse

When the divorce proceedings are unreasonably prolonged due to the bad faith actions of the one spouse, a judge may sometimes award attorney's fees to the other spouse. This is not solely due to the financial status of the parties involved, but rather based on fault.

In certain divorce cases, one party may engage in deceitful conduct that causes unnecessary delays, resulting in an unjust increase in attorney's fees for the innocent spouse. This can occur, for example, when one spouse makes false allegations about the other, or when one party refuses to engage in negotiations. These can be considered frivolous litigation.

Another scenario may involve disobeying a court order, concealing assets, or refusing to provide necessary documents. In such instances, the court has the discretion to order the offending party to bear all or a portion of the attorney fees of the other party.

Further, if one spouse needlessly escalates costs and prolongs the litigation without just cause, the court has the authority to award attorney's fees.

In a child support modification action

In Georgia, if you successfully argue for a change in child support payments, the law allows the court to award you attorney's fees if it finds it fair to do so.

In a child custody modification action

The trial court has authority to grant fees in child custody modification proceedings. As per Georgia Code 19-9-3(g), if an individual files a request with the court to alter a child custody order in Georgia, the judge has a lot of leeway in deciding whether to award attorney's fees and doesn't necessarily have to consider how much money each parent has or who filed the request.

Contact an Experienced Gwinnett County Divorce Attorney

If you are undergoing a divorce in Gwinnett County and seeking answers regarding the payment of legal fees in Georgia, feel free to contact Attorney Sharon Jackson, LLC.

Call us at (678) 909-4100 to arrange a consultation and case assessment. We are here to assist you in getting your life back on track.


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