Posted by Nydia Streets of Streets Law in Divorce

A recent appellate case shows us once again in a Florida divorce how the court determines who pays attorneys' fees and costs. The basic standard for making this decision is need and ability to pay - the need of the spouse requesting fees to be paid and the ability of the other spouse to pay them. In Hanson v. Hanson, 217 So.3d 1165 (Fla. 2d DCA 2017), we review a court's decision to order the husband to pay over $80,000 to the wife for her attorneys' fees and costs. 

The husband had already paid over $40,000 toward the wife's temporary attorneys' fees and costs during the course of litigation. After distributing the marital assets and debts and awarding alimony to the wife that essentially equalized the parties' financial positions, the trial court ordered the husband to pay an additional $86,000 to the wife for her attorneys' fees and costs. 

On appeal, the husband argued the trial court used an incorrect legal standard to hold him responsible for the rest of the wife's fees. The appellate court agreed with the husband, holding "As a general rule, when marital property has been equitably distributed and the parties' incomes have been equalized through an alimony award, the trial court abuses its discretion by awarding attorneys' fees." The court further held it was incorrect for the trial court to ignore the wife's non-marital assets as sources of funds for paying fees. 

The abuse of discretion was apparent in this case where the wife received about $200,000 more in assets than the husband and was awarded alimony that equalized the parties' financial positions. If you have questions about whether or not you will receive or have to pay attorneys' fees and costs in your Florida divorce case, schedule a consultation with a Miami divorce lawyer to understand what you are facing.