Posted by Nydia Streets of Streets Law in Florida Dissolution of Marriage
Temporary attorneys’ fee awards in Florida are difficult to attack because Florida law provides judges with broad discretion in temporary relief proceedings. This is because any inequity can be remedied at the time the final judgment is entered when court can look at the financial standings of the parties as a whole. This is illustrated in the recent appellate case Stein v. Stein, 4D18-493 (Fla. 4th DCA 2018) wherein the husband appealed a $138,000 temporary attorneys’ fees and cost award to the wife.
In this ongoing Florida divorce case, the parties initially entered a temporary settlement agreement which obligated the husband to pay temporary alimony to the wife and $25,000 in temporary attorneys’ fees and costs. Subsequently, the husband filed an amended pleading which added a civil theft claim against the wife, alleging the wife forged checks from the husband’s business.
As a result of this amendment, the wife sought more than $160,000 in additional temporary fees, noting she would need this much to defend against the husband’s newly asserted claim. After a hearing, the trial court awarded $138,000 in additional temporary fees to the wife, and the husband appealed, arguing there was no statutory authority for the court to award these fees to the wife because the civil theft claim was outside of the scope of Chapter 61 of the Florida Statutes, the chapter dealing with dissolution of marriage.
On appeal, the appellate court upheld the temporary fee award, holding that although the civil theft claim was technically a non-domestic claim, it was so intertwined with the dissolution of the marriage, that fees were authorized for this claim: “Here, the wife was not precluded from seeking temporary attorney's fees for the civil theft claim, which is "so intertwined with the dissolution litigation" that it is "part and parcel of the domestic strife." The civil theft claim involves a business wholly owned and controlled by the husband and concerns the wife's involvement as the bookkeeper of the business. Additionally, the husband's accountant testified that the parties used the business account as a personal "piggy bank" and that the husband paid his attorney's fees and costs out of this account. We also note that the husband raised the litigation stakes by injecting the civil theft claim into the Chapter 61 action, placing treble damages at issue in this dissolution war. The trial court did not err in determining that the wife is entitled to temporary fees to defend against this claim.”
Temporary attorneys’ fees and costs in Florida are authorized to level the playing field between spouses who earn disparate amounts of income. If you are facing such an award or are seeking one, it is best to consult with a Miami divorce lawyer to be sure you understand your rights and remedies in proceeding. A consultation is where to start.