Divorce can be costly. A highly disputed divorce involving fights over child custody, property division, and alimony can drag on for months, resulting in hefty court costs. In most situations, each party is responsible for their own legal costs. However, one party in a divorce or family matter may be able to get the court to award attorneys fees and/or court costs to be paid by the other party.
If you have questions about getting the other party to pay for the legal costs of a court battle or want to know more about divorce in Missouri, contact the Higher Level Legal Law Firm today.
Who Pays the Court Costs in a Missouri Divorce
Missouri follows the so-called “American Rule,” when it comes to financial responsibility for court costs. This means that each party generally bears his or her own costs of litigation. The cost of litigation can include attorney's fees, expenses, filing fees, and other court costs. Unfortunately, one party may bear the bulk of the cause of expenses.
However, under Missouri Revised Statutes § 452.355.1, the court can order a party to pay a reasonable amount for the cost to the other party of maintaining or defending any proceeding and for attorney's fees, sums for legal services, and costs incurred. This can include the costs incurred prior to the beginning of the legal proceeding and extend after entry of final judgment.
The types of legal actions that are subject to this fee-shifting can include anything related to a dissolution of marriage, including:
- Child support,
- Child custody,
- Maintenance orders,
- Grandparent visitation,
- Property division, and
- Post-decree modifications.
Factors in Awarding Legal Costs
When the court awards legal costs and fees in a family matter, the court takes into account all relevant factors, including:
- The financial resources of both parties,
- The merits of the case, and
- The actions of the parties during the pendency of the action.
The financial resources of both parties can be an issue when one spouse has little to no income or financial resources. The court may order the spouse with more financial resources to pay the cost of a divorce. However, finances may not be the sole basis for awarding legal fees. For example, in a standard divorce dispute where both parties have a basis for the dispute and are behaving civilly, each side will likely have to pay their own expenses even if one spouse has more money than the other. Instead, it may be a combination of the finances, along with the merits of the case or the actions of the parties.
When there is little merit to a legal action in a divorce, the court may see the legal action as an attempt to punish the other party or make them spend money unnecessarily to defend themselves. This often involves multiple filing or repeated attempts to modify existing court orders without a significant change in circumstances.
Similarly, bad behavior in or out of the courtroom may be a reason for the judge to award fees. Failing to follow court orders, regularly being found in contempt of court, or putting the children's well-being at risk may result in the misbehaving party having to pay the costs of the other.
Legal Costs in Child Support Actions
It may be easier to get legal costs in an action for failure to pay child support. If the obligor (person owing a duty of support) has failed, without good cause, to make required payments, then the court may award legal fees to the other parent. This includes child support obligations under a temporary order or a final judgment. The owing parent may be required to pay reasonable costs of the suit, including reasonable sums for legal expenses.
Awarding Attorney Fees in Missouri
Even after the court awards attorney fees, that issue may be appealed. On appeal, a higher court could reduce the amount of the fees as too high under the circumstances, deny attorney fees, or even award attorney fees to the other party. However, the appeals court is generally very deferent to the trial court and tends to uphold the court's findings.
A divorce can be expensive but your attorney can work with you to help manage the costs through a payment plan or other payment arrangements. Additionally, your attorney may be able to get the court to award legal costs and fees so the other party will be responsible for the costs of dealing with child support or child custody action.
If you have any questions about awards for legal fees or your options in filing a claim against the other parent, talk to your Missouri family law attorney. Your lawyer can advise you on the best option for your situation to protect your rights and ensure the best for your future. Contact the Higher Level Legal Law Firm in Raymore online or by calling (816) 331-9968.