When Does a Court Award Attorney Fees to the Prevailing Party in a Family Law Case?

An award of attorney fees may seem like a unicorn to some: a mythological event that some swear they have heard of from others but not seen themselves. This can be disheartening news to some divorce or family law litigants who have little money but are hoping that, if they prevail in their case, the court will order the other party to reimburse them for the legal fees they expended.

While Illinois courts in family law cases do have the discretion to award attorney fees to one party or the other, a court’s decision on the matter will ultimately depend on the unique facts and circumstances of your case. In general, though you may seek attorney fees you should not expect to receive them unless your case has one or more of the following factors present:

  • Gross disparity between the earning power of the spouses: If you are nearly destitute but your spouse makes a six-figure salary a year, this can sway a court to award you your reasonable attorney fees.
  • Delaying or frustrating justice: If your spouse is dragging out resolution your family law case without a good reason, the court is likely to consider the effect that this will have on your financial situation.
  • Winning vs. losing: If you prevail in your matter – i.e., you bring a motion to modify the parenting time and visitation arrangement and succeed – the court is more likely to award you attorney fees. If you do not win, or if there are no “winners” in your proceeding, the court will likely make each party bear his or her own attorney fees.
  • The reasonableness of the fees: Even if other factors are present suggesting an award of attorney fees is appropriate, the court may decline to order the payment of all of your fees if the court believes you hired the most expensive attorney you could find simply to increase the cost to the other party. Likewise, if you unnecessarily drove your attorney’s bill up, the court may decline to order payment of all of your attorney fees.

What Do I Need to Do to Recover Attorney Fees?

The biggest mistake that family law litigants make when it comes to asking for attorney fees from the other party is failing to ask the court to award these fees at the outset of the case. The other party is entitled to notice and hearing on the issue before being ordered to pay your attorney fees. If you wait until the conclusion of your case before requesting an attorney’s fee award, you may find yourself out of luck.

At Abear Law Offices, we are committed to protecting the rights and interests of our DuPage County and Illinois family law clients. We can assist you in determining whether to seek attorney fees from the other party and will vigorously advocate on your behalf for an appropriate court order from the court. Contact our skilled DuPage County family law lawyers and learn how our firm can assist you in your family law matter.