ARE ATTORNEY FEE AWARDS IN DIVORCE CASES GETTING OUT OF HAND?

LawReader Senior Editor Stan Billingsley    Jan. 29, 2008

We have been receiving some inquiries about how divorce attorney fees are set.  These inquiries detail horror stories where the deep pocket spouse is getting nailed with six figure attorney fees from the opposing spouse’s attorney.

These stories often focus on itemized bills that claim the attorney spent hours reading depositions that they attended, and which could be read in minutes not hours.  We have heard of attorney charges of 1 billable hour for reading a 1 page letter. (???)

We are hearing of cases where an attorney is replaced mid-divorce and the new attorney is billing tens of thousands of dollars to get up to speed in the case by reading the pleadings and depositions.

One case we recall nailed the husband for an excess of $100,000 in attorney fees, but he had initially offered a 50-50 split down the middle, and the wife who got the large fee was his business book keeper and had all the financial records.  The wife ended up getting not much more than her attorney did, and with the attorney fee deducted she got far less than the initial offer. (This case was in Maryland.)

The only law on this that we are aware of, allows the trial judge to pretty much use his/her discretion in awarding attorney fees.

We are seeking from our users information on fee awards that seem to have been excessive. If you know of any ethics rulings, guidelines, protocols, or cases which provide guidance for the court in making a reasonable award of attorney fees, please forward them to LawReader.

We want to know what a reasonable attorney’s fee is in a divorce case.

Do attorneys have an ethical duty to not be a party to vengeful use of discovery to drive up the bill that the other spouse with the deep pocket will have to pay.

How pro active should the trial judge in Family Court be, in monitoring discovery and attorney fees?

Please e-mail your comments to:    Firstjudge@aol.com

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