In Maryland, like many other states, family court judges have broad discretion to rule on matters, including distribution of attorneys’ fees and court costs. Although it is true that the general rule requires each side to pay its own attorney’s fees and expenses, there are exceptions that can help a stay-at-home spouse to have reasonable attorneys’ fees paid out of the marital estate.
First, it is important to understand how the court views your money. If you are married, it doesn’t really matter who is working and who is not working; all of your money is presumptively shared as part of a marital estate. Much of the divorce process is spent determining how that estate will be split up after the divorce is over.
Most households have two income earners nowadays. In fact, in 2003, the Population Reference Bureau (PRB) reported that only 13 percent of all families in America included a single-income household with a working father, stay-at-home mother, and children. These so-called “traditional” households are becoming quite rare. Therefore, in most situations, there are multiple streams of income to consider in a Maryland divorce. If both spouses have income, courts are usually a bit reluctant to make either spouse pay the other’s attorney fees. However, it can be done if there is a significant imbalance in access to funds.
As discussed above, these single-income families are becoming less common. Nevertheless, in situations where one spouse truly has no income other than a spouse, the non-earning spouse can petition the judge for payment of his or her attorney’s fees and costs.
Under Section 7-107 of the Maryland Family Code, there are times when a spouse may need to petition for payment of “reasonable and necessary expenses” associated with bringing an action in family court. These are situations where there was justification for bringing the action. Think, domestic violence, adultery, and so forth. If you have to later bring an action to enforce a court ordered alimony payment that your spouse has ignored, you may be able to get your spouse to pay your reasonable expenses, such as attorney’s fees and court costs, among others.
Section 9-105 of the Maryland Family Code allows a spouse to ask a court for payment of attorney fees and expenses when an action is necessary in order to enforce a visitation agreement. If your ex-spouse is interfering with a child custody arrangement and litigation is required, you may be able to have your ex pay the costs of bringing the action if you can show that it was reasonable and necessary in order to enforce the court order.
In making the final decision about payment of another party’s fees and expenses, the judge will first consider a child’s best interests, where applicable. Next, the judge must consider:
In almost all cases, the final determination rests on the financial means of the parties. If one spouse has all the income, a judge is much more likely to use the shared marital estate to pay the fees of each party’s lawyer.
If you are considering a divorce, don’t keep worrying about your options. Call an experienced Maryland divorce lawyer who can help work through the issues with you and give you some options. In Anne Arundel, Howard, and Baltimore Counties, call the Law Offices of Todd K. Mohink, P.A. With offices throughout the region, we make it easy for you to get the help you need.
7310 Ritchie Highway, Suite 910
Glen Burnie, MD 21061
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10440 Little Patuxent Parkway,
Columbia, MD 21044