Do I have to pay my wife's legal fees if I can't even afford an attorney of my own?
Question Details: 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?
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.
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