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I Don't Have Any Money-Why Is My Co-Parent Asking Me to Pay Attorney Fees?

Have you received a paper from your co-parent that requests for you to pay for their attorney’s fees? The letter might say something like:

“The Mother has retained an attorney to represent her in these proceedings and has obligated herself to pay the reasonable and necessary attorney’s fees and costs incurred herein. In determining responsibility for attorney fees pursuant to Section 61.16, Florida Statutes, and Rosen v. Rosen, 696 So. 2d 697 (Fla. 1997), the Court should consider the extent to which the conduct of each party furthers or frustrates public policy of this State to promote the settlement of the litigation and, where possible, to reduce the cost of litigation by encouraging mutual cooperation.”

If you have received a letter like this, don’t panic and send your co-parent a text message that you’ll later regret. Before you start worrying about how much you might be required to pay for your co-parent’s attorney, read this blog where we break down the meaning of this paragraph that is found in so many family law pleadings in Florida.

It’s Best Practice to Request Fees at the Outset

This attorney fee paragraph is a standard request that puts the other party on notice that they *may* seek an award of fees at any point during the case. In fact, your own attorney should have similar language in any pleadings that are filed on your behalf. The judge is usually only permitted to grant relief that has been formally requested in pleadings. If you don’t make a request for attorney’s fees in your first pleading filed with the court, you might not be allowed to ask for them later on down the road.

Two Reasons to Award Fees

There are two basic reasons why attorney fees are awarded in family law cases:

  • Because one party has the “need” for fees and the other has the “ability” to pay fees
  • Because one party has behaved poorly during litigation

Need & Ability to Pay

It is public policy for both parties to have equal access to competent attorneys and the courts. The “need and ability to pay” rationale goes back to divorce cases where one spouse has better access to marital assets and cash to for pay attorneys. The lesser earning or “impecunious” spouse has a right to ask that a fair share of the marital assets go toward their own attorney fees so that both parties have access to adequate funds to hire legal counsel. This rationale is extended to paternity and child support actions as well.

Even if you’ve never had a joint banking account with your co-parent, you might be required to pay their fees if you earn substantially more money than them. When deciding whether to award fees, the judge reviews both parties’ Financial Affidavits to determine each parent’s financial resources, such as their income, assets, financial obligations, and the like. The experienced attorneys at Dadvocacy can help you navigate this complex analysis.

Bad Behavior

There are many ways to make litigation more difficult for your co-parent. While you might be upset about the breakdown of your family, or your co-parent might try to antagonize you when communicating with you, acting out during litigation is not a wise choice. The following can be considered acting out during litigation:

  • Failing to pay your child support or alimony obligation
  • Failing to meet discovery deadlines
  • Missing too many mortgage payments and causing the marital home to go into foreclosure
  • Lying at deposition
  • Failing to show up to a court date or mediation
  • Talking to your children about litigation
  • Failing to return your children to your co-parent in a timely manner

If you engage in any of these “bad behaviors” that consequently cause your co-parent’s attorney fees to be higher, you could be on the hook for those fees. A judge can order you to pay fees even if you earn the same amount of money as your co-parent because of your bad behavior in or out of the courtroom.

Have you been ordered to pay attorney’s fees in the past? Are you concerned that you could be required to pay fees if you initiate litigation against your co-parent or ex-spouse? Call (305) 363-6171 today to speak with an experienced Dadvocacy Attorney about how to avoid paying for your co-parent or ex-spouse attorney’s fees.