Attorney Fees and Costs in Divorce

One party in a divorce may request that the assigned judge order the payment of that party’s attorney fees, by the other party. The court may order attorneys’ fees paid when both parties are represented by counsel, or when the party being asked to pay was not represented by counsel. This is important — unintentional errors and delays caused by the pro se litigant can result in the award of the other party’s legal fees incurred in dealing with those mistakes.

In Arizona, A.R.S. § 25-324 allows for the payment of attorneys’ fees in dissolution of marriage cases. In some circumstances, the court has discretion to award attorneys’ fees against a party.

In deciding on a fee award, the court objectively evaluates the reasonableness of both parties’ legal positions throughout the divorce proceedings. The subjective intentions of the spouse being asked to pay are not a factor in the court’s decision. Nor is the party’s lack of knowledge of divorce law, family law court procedures, and local rules. The court considers the financial resources of both parties, not just those of the party being asked to pay. Furthermore, the court will examine the parties’ financial disparity, the respective fees owed compared to each party’s assets, and so on.

In three circumstances, though, the court “shall” award attorneys’ fees against a party:

  • The party filed the petition in bad faith.
  • The party’s petition wasn’t grounded in the law or in fact.
  • The party’s petition was filed for some “improper purpose, such as to harass the other party, to cause an unnecessary delay or to increase the cost of litigation to the other party.”

On top of the attorneys’ fees, the court may also award deposition costs and other expenses reasonably incurred in the litigation and any appeal that followed. If the court orders the money paid directly to the requesting party’s attorney, then that attorney will enforce the order.