Recovering Your Attorneys’ Fees in Your Florida Paternity Case

Pursuing a family law case can be expensive. Attorneys’ fees and costs can be very costly. Sometimes, the fear of the cost of pursuing your legal claims may work as a barrier to filing. Concern about costs should not make you surrender your legal rights. In certain cases, the law may allow you to obtain a court order that requires your opponent to pay your attorneys’ fees and costs. Having representation from an experienced Florida family law attorney can help you ensure that you are protecting your rights and availing yourself of all possible options.

On the issue of attorneys’ fees, the Fifth District Court of Appeal, whose decisions affect cases originating in Orange County (Orlando), Marion County (Ocala), and Volusia County (Daytona Beach), among others, made an important ruling with regard to attorneys’ fees earlier this month. The case that triggered the ruling was a paternity action filed in Brevard County. Eventually, that case went before the Fifth DCA.

The mother, as part of her appeals case, asked the court to grant her an award of her appellate attorneys’ fees under Section 742.045 of the Florida Statutes. The mother acknowledged that a previous Fifth DCA ruling from 1999, Starkey v. Linn, specifically stated that parties can’t recover appellate attorneys’ fees in paternity cases, but she argued that the 1999 case was wrongly decided and that the court should award her fees in spite of that ruling.

The court sided with the mother, meaning that the Fifth District has moved from one that specifically disallowed awards of appellate attorneys’ fees in paternity cases to one that expressly does allow such awards. The ruling stated that the language of Section 742.045 (specifically, the first sentence) mirrored the first sentence of Section 61.16 and that Florida law was clear in “authorizing attorney’s fees awards both at trial and on appeal.”

The sentence states that courts may, after considering the requesting party’s financial need and the opposing party’s financial ability to pay, order an award of attorneys’ fees and costs. The court can make such an award in “any proceeding under this chapter, including enforcement and modification proceedings.” That rule applies whether the requesting party is the party bringing the action or defending.

Other courts have reached similar conclusions recently. The Fourth District court, whose decisions affect parties in Broward and Palm Beach Counties, ruled early in 2017 that Section 742.045 allows a party to seek an award of appellate attorneys’ fees in a paternity action. In that case, the Fourth DCA, much like the Fifth DCA, concluded that its own 1999 ruling that ruled against awards of appellate attorneys’ fees in paternity cases was wrongly decided. The Second DCA made a similar decision in 2013.

Pursuing any type of legal action has the potential to be demanding in terms of time, effort, and money. The nature and facts of your case may give you the option to defray those costs by obtaining a court order forcing your opponent to pay your legal fees. For answers about these and other options in family court litigation, talk to the knowledgeable South Florida family law attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. Our team has been representing people in divorce, paternity, and other family law cases for many years, and we are well-versed in all of the related laws and rules. Contact our attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.

More blog posts:

Alimony Award Equalized Incomes, Stymied Florida Wife’s Claim for Attorneys’ Fees, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Oct. 6, 2015

Miami Dade Marital And Family Law Judge Reversed For Awarding $305,640 In Temporary Attorney’s Fees, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Jan. 5, 2011