When it is expected that legal fees will exceed $1,000.00 the law requires that the attorney and client have a written fee agreement that discloses the attorney’s hourly rate, the general nature of legal services to be provided, and the respective responsibilities of the attorney and client. In family law matters, attorney fees are almost always determined by the amount of time devoted to the client’s file. Clients are entitled to a billing statement that discloses the amount of fees being charged, the hourly billing rate or rates, and the basis for determination of the fee. Most attorneys send clients monthly itemized billing statements.
Clients are responsible for their own attorney’s fees; however, there are circumstances in dissolution of marriage cases where the court may order one party to pay an amount for the other party’s “reasonably necessary” attorney’s fees based on the parties’ respective needs and abilities to pay. There is never a guarantee that the court will order the other party to pay attorneys fees and costs, but the law intends to ensure equal access to legal representation in order to provide a level playing field. Although this is the intent of the law, courts have wide discretion in making attorney fee and cost awards and it is often difficult for judges to determine what amount of fees are “reasonably necessary” and what sources of funds are available to pay fees.
There are also circumstances where the court may, upon request, order a party and/or a party’s attorney to pay fees resulting from bad faith actions or tactics that are frivolous or are intended to delay the case.