As a Jacksonville divorce attorney, I understand that attorney fees in divorce cases is an issue that comes up in every case. Whether each person will pay his or her own attorney fees, or whether the other side will be forced to contribute must be decided in every case. This can be done by agreement or a judge will decide. Payment of attorney fees in divorces cases is primarily controlled by Florida Statute 61.16. F.S. 61.16 in its simplest form bases attorney fees on one person’s need and the other person’s ability to pay. The court has the ability to assess fees on a temporary basis, at the end of the case, and even on to an appeal.
The purpose behind F.S. 61.16 in granting attorney fees in some situations, is to level the playing field. The courts would rather family law cases be resolved on the merits of the case rather than based on who has the most money to fight. There are circumstances where a court can order attorney fees based on other considerations that go past ability to pay. For example, the inequitable conduct doctrine can be used to punish an individual who as acted in bad faith throughout the case. Simply refusing to settle a case by itself cannot be considered egregious conduct or bad faith. In cases where one person purposefully frustrates the legal process throughout the case, or intentionally goes against a court’s prior ruling, the inequitable conduct doctrine can be used. Appellate courts have ruled that it should be reserved for the most egregious of cases.
Recently, in the case of Myrick v. Myrick, Florida’s Second District Court of Appeals reversed a judge’s ruling that granted nearly a six-figure attorney fee award to the former husband. The former wife refused to settle the case and apparently gave the former husband a hard time in certain aspects of the case. The second DCA stated that her conduct was not enough to justify the award of attorney fees.