Under What Circumstances Can My Spouse Be Required to Pay My Attorney’s Fees?

North Carolina law allows a judge to order one party to pay the other party’s reasonable attorney’s fees in certain family related legal matters, including child custody, child support, post-separation support, and alimony. What this means is that, in some circumstances, a judge may order the other party to pay your attorney’s fees, or require you to pay the other party’s attorney’s fees.

In awarding attorney’s fees in actions for child custody and/or child support, the judge must make a determination that a party who is pursuing such claims is (1) an interested party who is acting in good faith; and (2) is unable to pay the expenses of the litigation. In order to recover attorney’s fees in a child support action, the judge must find as an additional element that the party ordered to pay child support has refused to pay adequate support under the circumstances.

In order to recover attorney’s fees in connection with claims for post-separation support and/or alimony, a judge must find that the spouse seeking support is a dependent spouse who is entitled to post-separation support or alimony. The award for attorney’s fees is further conditioned upon the judge finding that the dependent spouse does not have sufficient funds or resources to pay the expenses of the action.

Attorney’s fees are not recoverable in pursuing or defending claims for equitable distribution. If a lawsuit includes claims for child custody, child support, post-separation support, alimony, and equitable distribution, only the attorney’s fees attributable to the child custody, child support, and spousal support claims may be awarded.

A trial judge has broad discretion in determining whether it is appropriate to require one party to pay the other party’s attorney’s fees, and the amount of the attorney’s fees that should be awarded. The main line of inquiry usually focuses on each party’s income, assets, and other financial resources that may be available. While certain circumstances may favor an award of attorney’s fees, there is no guarantee that a judge will require the other party to pay all, or even some, of your attorney’s fees.

This article is for information purposes only and is not to be considered or substituted as legal advice. The information in this article is based on North Carolina state laws in effect at the time of posting.

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