Attorney’s Fees in Utah Divorce Cases

Can the Court Force Your Spouse to Pay Your Fees?

This is a common question for divorcing parties in Utah divorce actions.  It usually arises where one party has more control over the finances than the other spouse or exclusive control over the finances.  It happens all the time.  One spouse decides to divorce and then cuts off the other from the bank accounts, check books, cash, and any other means of financial support.  Often this means that the spouse who is cut off has to live off of the generosity of others until he or she can get a court order protecting the other party.

Fortunately the Utah Legislature has provided a statute that gives divorce courts the power to award a divorcing party attorney’s fees:

“…in any action to establish an order of custody, parent-time, child support, alimony, or division of property in a domestic case, the court may order a party to pay the costs, attorney fees, and witness fees, including expert witness fees, of the other party to enable the other party to prosecute or defend the action. The order may include provision for costs of the action.”

Utah Code 30-3-3(1). The key word in the foregoing statute is “may.” Courts, by nature, do not like awarding attorney’s fees but there are occasions when they will.  In situations where one party has no independent financial means and the other party has disposable income, the court may be inclined order the party who has disposable income to pay the attorney’s fees of the other.

Fees Can’t Be Awarded Unless Party Can’t Meet His Own Needs

In the case Ostermiller v. Ostermiller, the Utah Court of Appeals set forth a bright line on when a trial court can award attorney’s fees under 30-3-3(1):

“as Wife has sufficient resources to meet her needs, Husband need not pay Wife’s attorney fees, even if he has more money at his disposal with which to pay his own fees and will have more money to spare than will Wife. Simply put, if Wife has no need for assistance, attorney fees may not be awarded under section 30-3-3(1).”

Basically, if you can take care of yourself by your own labor/means, the Court may not award you attorney’s fees.

Give our Utah divorce lawyers a call for more information concerning family law cases and attorney’s fees.

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