Florida Court Explains Grounds for Ordering a Party to Pay Attorneys’ Fees in Divorce Cases

Generally, in family law cases, parties are required to pay their own attorneys’ fees. There are exceptions, however, where the court will order one party to pay another’s counsel. Generally, though, such orders are only issued as sanctions for vexatious litigation or when one party has a need and the other has the ability to pay. If a court orders a party to pay attorneys’ fees without conducting the necessary analysis, the order may be reversed, as demonstrated in a recent Florida ruling issued in a divorce action. If you are considering seeking a divorce, it is wise to meet with a Miami divorce attorney to determine your options.

Procedural Setting of the Case

It is alleged that the husband and the wife divorced in 2009. In 2020, the husband filed a modification petition and accused the wife of not repaying a loan, prompting both parties to accuse each other of contempt. The court rejected the husband’s modification petition, granted his contempt claim, and denied the wife’s contempt claim. The wife, representing herself, appealed this decision, and the husband cross-appealed. The appeals court upheld the contempt rulings but dismissed the appeal regarding fees.

It is reported that the husband then sought and was awarded attorney’s fees for contempt and the previous appeal. The order incorrectly referenced a non-existent rule regarding the ability to award fees for contempt, however. There were also mathematical errors in the calculations of fees, and some statements were directly copied from the husband’s proposed order. The court’s order mentioned the wife’s financial situation, questioned her credibility, and ordered her to pay. The court did not discuss the husband’s financial situation.

Allegedly, the wife requested a rehearing, pointing out various errors and inaccuracies, including the mathematical mistakes and the lack of evidence supporting certain findings. The court denied the rehearing, claiming that the disputed facts were not relevant to its ultimate decisions, which led to the wife’s appeal.

Grounds for Ordering a Party to Pay Attorneys’ Fees in Family Law Cases

On appeal, the wife argued that reversing the decision was necessary due to the trial court’s failure to address both the husband’s need for attorney’s fees and her ability to pay. The court ultimately agreed and reversed the trial court ruling.

The court explained that if a contempt motion is granted, the court can impose sanctions like attorney’s fees, as long as a purge provision is included, establishing conditions for purging the contempt based on the party in contempt’s present ability to comply. Furthermore, the law mandates a separate finding in the court’s order that the party in contempt has the current ability to comply with the purge, along with the factual basis supporting that finding.

In the subject case, however, the order lacked these necessary elements. Consequently, the order was deficient on its face according to the rule it attempts to reference.

The court noted that the trial court is also permitted to order payment of appellant attorney’s fees after taking into account the financial resources of both parties. However, merely demonstrating the adverse party’s ability to pay is insufficient; the party seeking fees must also demonstrate their own need for payment. In this regard, the order again fell short. As such, the court reversed the order.

Meet with an Experienced Miami Attorney

While people involved in divorce actions usually have to pay their own attorneys’ fees, there are circumstances that warrant ordering one party to pay the other’s lawyer. If you want to end your marriage or were served with divorce papers, it is prudent to meet with an attorney to assess what steps you can take to protect your rights. The experienced Miami family law lawyers of the Law Offices of Sandy T. Fox, P.A., are proficient at handling complicated divorce actions, and if we represent you, we will fight to help you seek the results you deserve. You can contact us through our online form or at 800-596-0579 to set up a conference.