Who Pays the Legal Fees for a Nevada Divorce?
The legal fees and costs of court proceedings may pose a financial challenge for a married individual who wants to pursue a divorce. For that reason, spouses considering divorce often ask whether the other spouse can be made to pay their legal fees. In Nevada, state court judges have authority to order a spouse to pay the attorney’s fees for the opposing spouse, but judges exercise that authority in very limited circumstances.
Legal Fees in a Nevada Divorce Case
Divorce proceedings in Nevada have costs associated with them. Expenses include document filing fees, court costs, and attorney’s fees. Depending on the situation, a divorce case may also have other expenses that must be paid.
In a divorce case, as in litigation generally, each party is responsible for paying their own legal expenses, including attorney’s fees. Since an attorney cannot represent both parties in a divorce case, each spouse needs to retain and pay for separate legal representation. Under Nevada statutes, state court judges have authority to order one spouse to pay the legal fees of the other spouse. However, a judge’s discretion relating to payment of fees is not unlimited. The courts exercise the authority and discretion only in certain circumstances.
A key principle underlying the court’s authority to order payment of legal fees is that both parties in a divorce case should be on relatively equal footing in terms of legal representation. Judges examine specific factors and the circumstances of each case to determine whether fair and equal access to legal counsel justifies ordering one spouse to pay the legal costs of the other spouse.
An order for payment of legal fees may be entered as part of the final order in a divorce case, or the court may order that fee payments be made during the proceedings. In either situation, a judge typically considers an award of attorney’s fees only when one of the parties makes a request for payment of fees by the other party.
Reasons for a Court Order For Payment of Attorney’s Fees
The purpose of a fee order in a divorce case is to put the parties on a fairly equal basis (or level playing field) in terms of legal representation. A Nevada judge considers ordering payment of a spouse’s legal fees by the other spouse only in limited circumstances, with several identifiable considerations entering into the analysis.
To make the determination of whether a payment order is appropriate, Nevada courts typically look at three different factors. In a specific case, other considerations may affect the judge’s decision as well. The burden is on the party requesting a fee payment order to present evidence in court that substantiates the need for the order.
The first relevant factor is the respective income of the two spouses. If one spouse has a significantly greater income — and therefore a better ability to afford legal counsel — the court considers the evidence in that regard in determining whether to order payment of the other party’s attorney’s fees.
One common situation where this kind of disparity may occur is a spouse who is parenting full-time and has no outside income. But the analysis also applies when both spouses earn income, if there is a substantial disparity in the amount each one earns.
Control of Financial Resources
The second consideration is control of the marital financial accounts. In some marriages, only one spouse controls all the financial accounts for the couple, which means the other spouse does not have the same access to financial resources to pay for legal representation. A spouse requesting a fee payment order from the court on this basis must present evidence that documents the other spouse’s control of the marital financial accounts and the inability to access those financial resources.
Lack of Good Faith
Finally, a judge may consider whether one of the spouses is not acting in good faith in the divorce proceeding. A spouse who drags out the case for no valid reason or simply to harass the other spouse may be found responsible for payment of fees. The rationale for this consideration is that the party acting in bad faith is causing additional and unnecessary legal fees through their conduct. If lack of good faith is supported by evidence presented to the court, the judge may grant an attorney’s fee order on that basis.
Legal Representation in a Divorce Case
If you are considering divorce, talking with a lawyer early on is extremely important. Although you are not required to have legal representation in a divorce, moving forward without an attorney can significantly compromise your legal rights. Even if you think you and your spouse agree on everything, you should talk with a lawyer before you sign any agreements. It is especially critical to have your own attorney when your spouse is represented by legal counsel.
In a situation where you may qualify for receiving attorney’s fees for the divorce from your spouse, you should discuss that possibility with your attorney. Recovery of legal fees is an issue that your lawyer can explain in detail, including the process for requesting payment and how the court that hears your case will conduct the analysis.
Schedule a Free Consultation With an Experienced Las Vegas Divorce Attorney
If you are considering filing for divorce in Nevada, Las Vegas family law attorney Joseph Gersten is here to help. He draws on his extensive experience in domestic matters, including property division, child custody and support, and alimony (spousal support), to protect your interests and pursue cost-effective resolution of all issues.
The Gersten Law Firm helps clients in Las Vegas, Henderson, and elsewhere in Clark County. Your initial consultation is always free. Call 702.857.8777 or complete our online form to schedule an appointment.