Tonight’s post on affordability and the high cost of attorney fees was written by one of our Marietta divorce attorneys, Naomi Lumpkin.
Going through a divorce can be an expensive process. It is one thing to have to deal with the cost of moving, potentially selling your house and dividing assets and debts but another to deal with the rising cost of ongoing litigation. Often people settle their cases more quickly or agree to certain things that they normally would not agree to simply to stop their draining bank accounts. Those without any financial resources often sign on the dotted line without a thought of proposing something different as they cannot even afford the initial cost of an attorney.
There are ways around having to settle solely for financial reasons relating to the cost of an attorney. Georgia has two statutes that deal with attorney fees. The first is O.C.G.A. §19-6-2 which allows either party to recover attorneys fees at any time throughout the litigation in divorce, custody or contempt actions. These fees can be recovered at different times throughout the litigation. They can also be recovered multiple times throughout litigation depending on the evolving nature of your case. Simply receiving some amount of attorney fees at a temporary hearing does not bar you from receiving them again at a final hearing.
Thus, if there is a gross disparity between incomes of the parties, the judge may grant one party attorney fees during litigation to ensure an even playing ground. The reason for this statute is to ensure effective representation of both spouses so that all issues can be fairly resolved. This statute is based on need so it looks at both parties financial circumstances to determine whether fees should be granted. Misconduct is not taken into account under this statute.
Even if there is a not a gross disparity between incomes, one can still recover his or her attorney fees under O.C.G.A. §9-15-14 if the other party is being unreasonable or unnecessarily delaying the procedure. This statute does not take into account the financial circumstances of the parties but rather is based on one party’s misconduct. Under this statute, “Attorney Fees may be awarded if an attorney or party brought or defended an action that lacked substantial justification or if it that action was interposed for delay or harassment, unnecessarily expanded the proceedings by other improper conduct”
There are several circumstances where this statute applies including not complying with court mandated deadlines, requesting alimony or other division that a party is not entitled to under law, or not showing up to court hearings. In family law, it does not pay to not comply with the law or unnecessarily delay a final outcome in the case. In fact, it costs and often times a very pretty penny to make these types of decisions.
There are always reasons to come to a compromise in divorce, contempt or custody issues but the expenses of attorney fees alone should not deter you from filing an action or doing what is best for you and your children. Every litigant has a right to a fair fight in the battle for a just result. Affordability of an attorney should not be your reason to give up. Don’t surrender your just result solely because of your income.