Who pays attorney fees in divorce?

Who pays attorney fees in divorce?

Divorces can be overwhelming, taking a toll on one’s mental, emotional, and financial well-being.

While some divorces may proceed smoothly and cost as little as $1,000, others that involve disputes can quickly escalate, resulting in substantial expenses.

This leads many couples to question the allocation of legal fees in a divorce.

Fortunately, the answer is simpler than expected.

Two divorcing couples
Divorcing couples – Image by storyset on Freepik

Who pays attorney fees in divorce?

In the majority of divorce cases, individuals are responsible for covering their own legal fees.

However, there are a few exceptions to this general rule.

When filing for divorce or responding to a divorce filing, it is typically expected that each party will bear the costs of their respective attorneys.

Nonetheless, there are circumstances in which you can request your spouse to pay your attorney fees:

1. Dependent Spouse: If you are considered a dependent spouse, such as a stay-at-home parent with limited or no income, and you are entitled to alimony or post-separation support, you may be eligible to have your legal fees paid by your supporting spouse.

This provision applies in North Carolina.

2. Financial Strain: If your spouse has deliberately removed your name from shared accounts or redirected their income to a separate account, leaving you with insufficient funds, you can petition for your spouse to cover your attorney fees.

3. Bad Faith Behavior: If your spouse has engaged in deceptive or unfair practices that unnecessarily prolonged the litigation process, resulting in higher attorney fees for you, you may be able to seek compensation for those expenses.

In such situations, the court aims to balance the financial circumstances of both parties during the divorce proceedings.

It is important to note that these decisions are not based on gender; there is no legal requirement for one side to pay the other’s legal fees solely based on gender.

For instance, a wife cannot demand her husband to cover her legal fees simply because she is a woman.

It is also worth dispelling a common misconception that if a spouse has committed adultery, the innocent party can petition for their attorney fees to be paid.

In reality, even if you are a victim of adultery, it is highly likely that you will still be responsible for covering your own legal fees.

Can I Be Ordered To Pay My Spouse’s Attorneys’ Fees?


There are situations in which a court may order one party to pay the attorney’s fees of their spouse in addition to their own expenses.

Here are some circumstances where such an award may be considered:

1. Child Custody: If child custody is a contentious issue and one party is deemed to have acted unreasonably or obstructed the process, the court may require them to cover the other party’s attorney’s fees.

2. Inadequate Child Support: If the court determines that the child support being paid is insufficient based on the circumstances and the supporting party has engaged in unjustifiable behavior, they may be required to pay the other party’s attorney’s fees.

3. Post-Separation Support and Alimony: If there is a dispute over post-separation support or alimony, and one party’s conduct or actions contribute to the need for litigation, the court may order them to reimburse the other party’s attorney’s fees.

4. Contempt of Court: In cases where one party is found in contempt due to their failure to comply with court orders or engage in disruptive behavior, resulting in the need for legal action, the court may award attorney’s fees to the innocent party.

5. Sanctions for Rule Violations: If a party consistently fails to adhere to local rules or the North Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure, and their non-compliance leads to additional litigation or delays, the court may order them to pay the other party’s attorney’s fees as a penalty.

It’s important to note that the decision to award attorney’s fees in these cases is not automatic, and it ultimately rests with the judge’s discretion. The party seeking reimbursement must effectively demonstrate the necessity and justification for such an award.

How Are Attorney’s Fees Calculated?

The cost of attorney fees in divorce cases can vary significantly depending on the unique circumstances of each situation and the level of work required to achieve the best possible outcome for the client.

In straightforward divorce proceedings, such as uncontested separations where both parties reach an agreement without significant disputes, the costs can be relatively low.

These cases may involve minimal court filings and proceedings, resulting in fees as low as less than $1,000, with court filing fees typically around $100.

However, the complexity of a divorce case can greatly impact the services provided by an attorney and consequently affect the overall cost.

In more intricate situations, an attorney’s responsibilities may include attending court appearances, providing legal counsel, conducting research and investigations, negotiating settlements, preparing various legal documents and pleadings, preparing for trial, and representing the client in court hearings.

Each of these tasks contributes to the total cost of attorney fees.

How Are Attorney’s Fees Paid?

The timing and method of payment for attorney fees can vary depending on the specific circumstances and the agreements made between the client and their attorney.

Up-Front Costs

Many attorneys require clients to pay a retainer or a portion of the fees up-front before they begin working on the case.

However, if an award of attorney fees is granted later in the case, the client may be reimbursed for the amount they paid up-front.

Requesting Attorney’s Fees

If you believe you are eligible to have your attorney’s fees paid by your soon-to-be-ex spouse, it is important to make this request prior to the alimony hearing or relevant court proceedings.

By including this request in a pleading or motion, you can notify the opposing party of your intention to seek this relief.

Consulting with your divorce attorney is crucial to determine the most appropriate way to make this request and ensure it aligns with the legal requirements and procedures of your specific case.

It is important to have clear communication with your attorney regarding the payment arrangements and any potential reimbursement for attorney fees to ensure a transparent understanding of the financial aspects of the representation.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a spouse entitled to in a divorce in North Carolina?

North Carolina operates under the equitable distribution principle, which means that property and assets are divided in a manner that is deemed fair, although not necessarily an exact 50/50 split.

The court considers various factors, including the circumstances of each spouse and the separation, to determine a fair distribution.

What are the eligibility requirements for a divorce in North Carolina?

In order to file for divorce in North Carolina, you must meet certain criteria. Firstly, you must have resided in the state for a minimum of six months.

Additionally, you and your spouse must have lived separately for at least 12 consecutive months before initiating the divorce proceedings.

How much does it cost to file for divorce in North Carolina?

The filing fee for a divorce in North Carolina is $225.

However, if you are facing financial difficulties and are unable to afford the fee, you have the option to apply for a waiver.

This process allows you to request that the fee be waived due to financial hardship.