Most people seem to link messy with divorce, and then wrinkle up their noses. But another word reflects the undercurrent most people do not want to think about: expensive. Divorce is a costly proposition. One tactic to reduce the financial impact is to make the spouse pay for both lawyers, right? Well, that only works some of the time.
If your wife is asking a Commonwealth judge to order you to pay for her attorney in your divorce, the odds are stacked against her:
- Neither party is required by Virginia law to hire a lawyer for a divorce
- In the case of uncontested and no-fault divorces, the judge has limited legal cause to compel you to pay for her legal fees
- Any award for legal fees may be only partial
- Any award for legal fees may not come until the divorce decree is final; meanwhile, no legitimate attorney will work on a family law matter on contingencies
More common than awarding attorney fees in a divorce is awarding them in post-divorce matters, such as failure to pay child support, refusal to honor the property settlement agreement, or other breaches of contract law.
One possible argument your wife could make — through her attorney — is that she makes substantially less than you earn, so she cannot afford the services of a divorce lawyer while you can easily pay for a whole courtroom full of lawyers.
To make this a compelling argument that a Circuit Court judge might entertain, she would have to show:
- The economic impact of a long, drawn-out divorce
- Her earnings and request your earnings to be entered as evidence
- That your actions made the divorce contentious, drawn out, or unreasonably expensive for her attorney to litigate
- Her current expenses, indicating financial need (she cannot afford attorney fees given her limited budget or ability to borrow)
- The property settlement agreement was inequitable or coerced, meaning she did not get her equitable share of assets or was unduly burdened with too-great a share of debt
- Minimal or non-existent spousal support to her from you
- Amount of attorney fees requested and the justifications for those amounts
A judge is under no obligation to resolve income disparity between the two parties. When your wife’s attorney asks you to pay her fees, the judge can request a listing of all assets. If the fees could be paid by reasonable actions such as borrowing against insurance policies, selling a vacation home, or even holding a yard sale to sell off separate property she owns, the judge may recommend any and all such actions before forcing you to pay her attorney fees.
No matter how much she loves her three-piece Heart & Forge skillet set, if selling it buys a few hours’ attorney time, she may have to sell it.
Attorney Fees and Fault Grounds
Virginia has both fault grounds and no-fault divorce. If you divorce your wife because she committed one of the fault grounds for divorce, she has almost no chance of convincing any judge to compel you to pay for her attorney fees. The fault grounds, spelled out in Code of Virginia § 20-91, paint a very unpleasant picture of your spouse:
- Sodomy committed outside the marriage
- Buggery committed outside the marriage
- Felony conviction after marriage, resulting in a sentence of one year or greater
- Causing reasonable apprehension of bodily hurt
- Willful desertion or abandonment
Your attorney will counsel you carefully to consider if you want to divorce your wife based on an accusation of one of these faults. Obviously the fourth fault is easily verifiable; the others require hard evidence that could be nearly impossible to gather.
Remember, too, that if she accuses you of one of these fault grounds for divorce, she can ask the court to order you to pay for her attorney, since you are at fault.
Post-divorce Issues and Attorney Fees
Recall that we mentioned post-divorce proceedings. Many Virginia men navigate the treacherous waters of separation and divorce well, only to run aground afterwards. Avoid making simple mistakes that could convince a judge to award your wife her attorney’s fees in cleaning up a mess you caused:
- If you are required to pay child support, pay it
- If you are required to pay spousal support, pay it
- Do not take your children out of state without checking with your attorney first
- Follow every part of the property settlement agreement precisely; if in doubt, ask your attorney for clarification on any item
All of these events after the divorce decree could result in your wife hauling you back into court. If you are at fault, she can reasonably ask the judge to award attorney’s fees since you caused the problem. And, as with fault grounds, anything she does improperly after the divorce gives you grounds to compel her to pay your attorney’s fees.
Contact us today at The Firm For Men, or telephone our Virginia Beach office at (757) 383-9184, to speak with a family law attorney. We are happy to answer all your questions, from paying for legal services to dealing with divorce. We proudly serve Virginia’s men in all aspects of family law.