Wife’s Alimony Shielded from Florida Attorney’s Lien if Needed for ‘Daily Sustenance’

A wife fighting to avoid using her alimony to pay a lien imposed by her former divorce lawyer must return to a Broward County trial court to continue litigating the matter. The 4th District Court of Appeal concluded that whether or not the attorney’s lien was enforceable against the wife’s alimony award depended on whether the alimony was needed to pay for the wife’s “daily sustenance or the minimal necessities of life,” or whether it was used to cover less basic expenses.

The case began when M.T. (wife) filed for divorce from her husband, L.T.. The wife sought, among other things, an award of alimony in order to maintain the lifestyle to which she had been accustomed. The wife hired an attorney, but, three months into the relationship, the attorney and the client parted ways. Ultimately, the divorce case proceeded to its conclusion. The trial court’s ruling included an award of alimony to the wife.

When the case ended, though, the wife’s original attorney filed what is known as an “attorney’s charging lien,” which is a lien against a former client’s judgment. The wife had several thousand dollars of unpaid legal bills she owed the lawyer. The Florida Supreme Court has defined a charging lien as “an equitable right to have costs and fees due an attorney for services in the suit secured to him in the judgment or recovery in that particular suit.” In other words, the wife owed unpaid attorney’s fees to her first attorney, and the attorney was entitled to collect from the proceeds of the wife’s divorce judgment.

The wife tried to escape the lien through two primary arguments. First, she contended that the work her first lawyer put into the case did not yield a “tangible postive result.” The trial court rejected this argument and ordered the wife to pay $9,251, which included more than $6,700 in unpaid legal bills along with another $2,537 in costs the lawyer expended getting the lien imposed.

On appeal, the wife achieved a measure of success. Although the appeals court concluded that the lawyer was entitled to the lien, it reduced the amount by $2,537. The money the lawyer spent pursuing the lien could not be considered to be related to any tangible positive result for the wife and, as a result, couldn’t be covered by an attorney’s charging lien.

Regarding the wife’s argument that the trial court wrongfully allowed the lawyer to pursue the wife’s alimony to satisfy the lien, the appeals court sent this issue back to the trial court. If using alimony to satisfy the lien would deprive the wife of “daily sustenance or the minimal necessities of life,” the lawyer cannot pursue the alimony. In this case, the trial court, in its order awarding alimony, expressly stated that the alimony award was necessary in order for the wife to maintain the upper-middle class lifestyle to which she had been accustomed.

In short, if allowing the lawyer to pursue the alimony would not deprive the wife of the necessities of life, the lien was enforceable even against the alimony award. But if it would deprive the wife of her daily sustenance, it was not enforceable against the alimony award.

For advice and representation about your alimony issues, contact the South Florida alimony attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. Our hardworking, skillful attorneys are here to help with all of your family law matters. Contact us online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.

More blog posts:

Florida Alimony Award too Low to Allow Wife to Maintain Lifestyle Enjoyed During Marriage, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Feb. 25, 2015
Alimony That Requires Wife to Dip into Assets to Pay Monthly Expenses is Too Low, Appeals Court Says, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Sept. 10, 2014