One of the most frequently asked questions I am faced with is in regards to attorney’s fees in a divorce action is whether other spouse will be responsible to pay my legal fees. Unfortunately, my typical answer as an attorney is, “it depends.” An example of a time that your spouse shall be compelled to pay the opposing party’s attorney’s fees is has your spouse has acted in bad faith. This was the New Jersey divorce case in Uppal v. Uppal. Let’s explore.
In Uppal, the parties, who were both doctors, married in 1983 and divorced in 1999. Two sons were born of the marriage, one in 1987 and one in 1992. During the divorce proceeding, the court transferred sole physical custody of the children from the wife to the husband. Once the divorce was finalized, sole custody remained with the husband and the wife was ordered to pay child support.
In January 2013, the wife filed a motion to emancipate her sons as of the dates of their eighteenth birthdays, respectively. Additionally, she sought to terminate retroactively her child support obligation of $185 a week. Two months later, the court granted the wife’s motion and vacated the bench warrant for child support arrears that were issued against her. However, the husband filed a motion to vacate certain aspects of the order. To wit, the husband certified that his older son was a full-time college student and should not be emancipated until his graduation date. Furthermore, the husband stated that the younger son was still in college full-time.
As part of his relief, the husband sought reimbursement of his attorney’s fees. He alleged that his wife had falsely claimed the boys were financially independent but knew they were not. In June 2013, the New Jersey Family Court entered an order to address the husband’s issues. It held that the wife had materially misrepresented facts and therefore vacated the order. The court modified the emancipation date for the older son to the time of his graduation date and vacated its prior finding of emancipation of the younger son. Moreover, the court ordered that the wife pay her ex-husband’s attorney’s fees. The wife appealed.
On appeal, the wife alleged that the court did not provide sufficient reasons for granting attorney’s fees to her ex-husband. The New Jersey Appellate Division affirmed the findings of the lower court. It held that the wife misleadingly alleged her sons were employed and financially independent as of their eighteenth birthdays even though she knew they were college students in need of financial support from their parents. Since the wife materially misrepresented facts in her original motion, it was perfectly reasonable and fair for the trial court to award the husband with attorney’s fees. Specifically, the wife’s bad faith in being dishonest cost her plenty.
After years of practicing as a divorce lawyer, I can assure you that it is always painful to pay your “Ex’s” attorney.
As they say, honesty is the best policy. If you or a loved one is facing a potential divorce, my law firm is here for you. Thank you.