Do I have to pay my wife’s legal fees if I can’t even afford an attoreny of my own?

UPDATED: Oct 1, 2022

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Do I have to pay my wife’s legal fees if I can’t even afford an attoreny of my own?

My ex-wife and I filed for divorce 6 years ago. She has retained legal representation the whole time up until the present. I went pro-se 4 years ago because I could not afford to have representation and pay child support. She is now seeking me to pay her legal fees. Is there protection for me since I can’t afford an attorney myself?

Asked on October 17, 2018 under Family Law, Utah


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

No, there is no legal restriction on the court's ability to impose legal fees on you, even if you can't afford them. Most judges will take your income, costs, debts, and ability to pay into account, but they will weigh those vs. your ex-wive's finances and needs, and also look to your behavior during litigation: did you do things which unnecessarily or unfairly increased her legal costs or delayed matters? Bad conduct on your part will increase the likelihood of fees being assessed against you. At the end of the day, the court should come to an equitable, or fair, resolution, but certainly does have the power to order you to pay her fees.
All the above said, the norm in this nation is the "American Rule" that each party pays its own legal fees. It generally takes either a statute requiring the payment of legal fees (which is common only in discrimination and certain fraud cases) or bad behavior on the part of one party to order the payment of the other side's fees.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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