If you are considering filing for divorce in New York, you may be concerned about the legal fees. At the Law Offices of Jason Lutzky, our clients commonly asked us whether one spouse will be responsible for the other spouse’s legal fees. Under New York law, the spouse with more resources and income, sometimes called the “monied” spouse, will typically be required to assist the less-monied spouse with legal fees. There is a rebuttable presumption that the spouse with less money and assets should be awarded counsel fees.
Will I Have to Pay My Spouse’s Divorce-Related Legal Fees?
If you have more assets and money than your spouse, there is a good chance you will have to pay for your spouse’s legal fees. New York courts want to level the playing field so that the spouse with more assets cannot take advantage of the other spouse by paying for more expensive lawyers while the less money spouse must seek less qualified legal representation. Ideally, both parties in the divorce should have the same opportunities and options.
Limits to Paying for Spouse’s Legal Fees
Even though New York courts want both spouses to be able to hire similarly qualified lawyers, differences in income can make a difference, resulting in one spouse challenging the idea that he or she should pay for the other spouse’s legal fees. The percentage that the payor spouse is responsible for is not set in stone. With excellent legal representation, the pier spouse’s lawyer can advocate for a lower percentage of payment. In some divorces, the legal fees are so high that there is more debate and challenge over who pays the legal fees than for the issues related to the divorce itself.
New York Courts Encourage Settlement
New York courts try to encourage the spouses to settle their divorce and agree to the terms of their divorce outside of court. This process is more efficient for the court system, less expensive for everyone involved, and more efficient for divorcing parties. In some cases, courts are more likely to award legal fees to the spouse who has been more open to the settlement process and who has not acted in a way that prolonged litigation when this spouse has less money.
When both parties have deliberately extended litigation, or they have been misbehaving in the divorce, the court may be less likely to require one spouse to pay the other spouse’s legal fees. The spouse with less money cannot expect that the wealthier spouse will stand in as a blank cheque to cover all of the expenses related to litigation.
In recent cases, we have noticed that even though courts are likely to assist the less money spouse regarding litigation costs, there are limits to their generosity. The courts are less likely to award legal fees when both parties still have extensive resources. For example, in high asset divorces, both parties can pay their legal fees, even if they earn a substantially higher income than the other spouse.
Until recently, after New York law was changed to require that the money spouse help pays for the less monied spouse’s litigation expenses, the less money spouse had every incentive to draw out the divorce. In other words, the spouse who knew that his or her legal fees would be paid for in the end would have an incentive to keep bringing up issues that would increase the legal fees and drag the case onward, knowing that they could run up a large legal bill as a way to punish their soon-to-be-ex. As a result of this type of behavior, New York words have stepped in more often to stop this type of behavior.
Courts Do Not Look Kindly Upon Spouses Who Drive Up Legal Costs on Purpose
When a less monied spouse has been conscientiously driving up litigation costs, the court may require them to pay for their litigation expenses from a specific date forward. By making this type of decision, judges reason that the less monied spouse will have an incentive to not unnecessarily drag the divorce on if they are required to pay at least a percentage of their litigation costs. Once the less monied party is made aware that the higher-earning spouse will not be covering all their litigation costs, they are less likely to engage in frivolous tactics that prolong the divorce.
What Happens When Neither Spouse Has Significant Income?
When neither spouse has extensive income, and each spouse makes less than six figures, determining who will pay for the divorce can be more complicated. In these cases, a divorce can consume most or all marital assets and savings. To avoid going into debt or overextending themselves financially, divorcing parties of all income levels should be open to trying to work out a settlement with the guidance of their attorneys. Whenever possible, they should try to avoid trials and engage in unnecessary motions or discovery to save money on legal fees.
If your spouse is engaging in these types of tactics that will increase legal fees, or if you have substantially less means and your spouse, you may be able to convince the judge in your case to make your ex pay for your legal bills. New York’s divorce laws and the New York court system will be more in your favor than ever before concerning counsel fees. It is essential that you discuss your case with an experienced lawyer and not engage in any behavior that would persuade the judge to make you pay your legal fees.
Consult With a Bronx Divorce Lawyer Today
Are you pursuing a divorce in New York, but you are concerned about paying for legal fees? If so, you need an experienced divorce lawyer on your side. Contact the Law Offices of Jason Lutzky today to schedule your free initial consultation to discuss your case with an experienced divorce lawyer.