ATTORNEY’S FEES AND COSTS
When confronted with a major legal issue, such as divorce, it is always best to consult with an attorney. However, many people fear that they are unable to afford to hire an attorney. In some cases, Florida law will require an opposing party to pay for, or contribute to, your attorney’s fees and costs after considering the financial resources available to each party.
Attorney’s fees begin to accumulate at the inception of your case and often people do not realize how much time is truly invested in resolving complicated issues which frequently arise is a dissolution (divorce) action. Sessums Law Group, P.A. is dedicated to providing you with up-front, understandable, and complete information regarding attorney’s fees. Mark Sessums is double board certified in Civil Trial Law and Marital and Family Law by the Florida Bar Board of Legal Specialization and Education. Sessums Law Group, P.A. faithfully follows the guidelines for attorney’s fees imposed by Florida courts and has a team of attorneys who can provide you with the highest quality representation, tailored to your needs, at reasonable costs.
FACTORS TO CONSIDER
Depending on the financial resources available to each party, Florida law permits the recovery of all, some, or no attorney’s fees in cases of divorce. Most family law attorneys apply a fixed hourly rate for their services. Florida does not permit for family and marital law cases to be based on a contingency fee (unless it relates to collecting an arrearage in support owed). Thus, an attorney cannot make your fee contingent on winning the case. However, you can recover your fees by application of various statutes or by the agreement of the parties. The primary factors a court will consider in determining whether to award attorney’s fees are (1) the financial resources available to each party and (2) the reasonableness of the requested fee award. Thus, you are more likely to be awarded attorney’s fees if you are significantly financially disadvantaged when compared to the opposing party.
Generally, Section 61.16, Florida Statutes, governs a trial court’s decision to award attorney’s fees and costs in a family law matter. A trial court has broad discretion in determining whether to award a party with attorney’s fees and costs. Rosen v. Rosen, 696 So. 2d 697 (Fla. 1997).
FEES BY AGREEMENT
Many couples enter into pre- or post-nuptial agreements, which may govern a potential award of attorney’s fees when disputes arise between the parties. Prior to entering into such an agreement, you should take the time the thoroughly read the entire agreement and determine whether attorney’s fees are addressed in the agreement. Such agreements generally provide for an attorney’s fee award to the prevailing party in any resulting litigation. Lashkajani v. Lashkajani, 911 So. 2d 1154 (Fla. 2005). It is important to note, one cannot entirely waive, or contract away, a future obligation to pay attorney’s fees during a separation and prior to a divorce. Such a waiver has been found to be unenforceable by the Florida Supreme Court. See Belcher v. Belcher, 271 So. 2d 7 (Fla. 1972). However, parties can waive attorney’s fees and costs that may accrue after divorce by agreement, as the policy concerns that exist pre-dissolution are no longer applicable.
SUIT MONIES & COSTS
An award of suit monies and costs usually accompanies an award of attorney’s fees. Costs are the expenses incurred in preparing, filing and prosecuting the case and include filing fees; service of process fees; copy charges; postage; court reporter fees and witness fees. Suit monies are expert fees for appraisers; CPAs; vocational evaluators or other experts.
WHY ARE ATTORNEY’S FEES AWARDED?
The purpose of requiring one party to contribute to, or pay for, the other party’s attorney’s fees is so both parties can be in a similar situation financially and adequately represented by a competent attorney. Nichols v. Nichols, 519 So. 2d 620 (Fla. 1988). Fees can be awarded in action for dissolution, child custody and support, and enforcement or modification or other family law cases. The Court can make temporary awards or awards at the conclusion of the case.
You should not let attorney’s fees and costs dissuade you from seeking professional help when dealing with an emotional and complex family law issue. Florida law may assist you in managing your attorney’s fees, suit monies and costs. The attorneys here at Sessums Law Group, P.A. will always represent your best interest and provide you with the best advice on how to resolve your legal issues and can help you determine if you can recover your fees, costs and suit monies from the other side. Should you have any questions and wish to sit down and speak with one of our attorneys, please give us a call.