Can you sue for legal fees in family court?

Estimated read time 8 min read

Your spouse or ex-spouse has sued you for divorce, child custody, or child support, and you are annoyed thinking at all the legal costs and fees that you are going to incur so you ask yourself, can you sue for legal fees in family court?

It is even more annoying when you think that you are very innocent or acted in a very reasonable manner all the time before the dispute, hence you don’t deserve at all to pay all the unnecessary expenses involved in a family case.

In this blog post, we will explore the question looking at the various factors and considerations that come into play when it comes to legal fees in family court, providing you with a comprehensive understanding of the topic. So, let’s embark on this exploration together and shed light on this intriguing subject.

Understanding Legal Fees in Family Court

Legal fees refer to the costs associated with hiring an attorney to represent you during a family court case. These fees typically include attorney’s hourly rates, court filing fees, administrative costs, and other related expenses. Family court cases encompass a wide range of matters, such as divorce, child custody disputes, spousal support, adoption, and more.

When you get professional help from lawyers or legal pros who specialize in family law then you will pay attorney’s fees. These fees depend on various factors such as case complexity, the attorney’s experience and expertise, and the amount of time spent on the case. Attorney’s fees provide clients with tailored advice and representation, to protect their rights and interests before the family court.

Court costs cover expenses directly linked to the judicial system. These include filing fees, service of process fees, document retrieval fees, and other administrative fees imposed by the court. Court costs are mandatory payments for cases to proceed in the legal system.

Can you sue for legal fees in family court?

Generally, in family court cases, including divorce, child custody, and support disputes, each party is responsible for paying their legal fees.

However in some circumstances, you can ask for an order for legal fees in family court, that is the opposite party’s actions make it fair for them to cover costs, and reimburse you for the legal costs you have incurred by being involved in the case.

Can you go to jail for not paying attorney fees?

The attorney fees are generally awarded to the successful party according to the decision of the Court of Appeals of North Carolina in the case of RUTH v. RUTH, 158 NC (2003).

This means that if you are successful in your case and the court deems you the prevailing party, you may be able to seek reimbursement for your legal fees from the other party.

When can you sue and recover legal fees in family court?

Your attorney will make a motion whether orally or in writing addressing the court on why you should be granted costs when the case ends.

It’s crucial to document all of your legal expenses throughout the case. Keep track of every bill, receipt, and invoice related to your attorney fees. This will provide concrete evidence of the costs you have incurred when needed.

While the specific circumstances may vary depending on jurisdiction and the particular details of the case, there are certain situations in which suing for legal fees in family court may be possible.

The legal fees must be directly in relation to the case at hand, for instance, if you were involved in a divorce case, but in the end, you had to make a petition for change of custody or support, you can not, therefore, sue for the legal fees you incurred during the divorce case.

You are advised to be prepared for the possibility that the court may not award you the full amount of your legal fees. In some cases, the court may only award a portion of the fees or may determine that no reimbursement is appropriate.

 The decision to award legal fees is at the discretion of the court, and they will consider various factors such as the financial resources of both parties, the complexity of the case, and the reasonableness of the legal fees incurred.

Circumstances where you can sue for legal fees in family court.

Some factors that determine whether or not a party will be ordered to pay attorney fees include.

1. Contempt of Court

Where one party violates court orders during the family court case such as failing to comply with child custody arrangements refusing to provide financial information, or purposefully causing delays in the court process, you may be able to seek reimbursement for any legal fees incurred due to their non-compliance.

It must be remembered that in case of contempt of court, it does not matter if you were the prevailing party in the initial case, you will be ordered to pay for the other party’s attorney fees regardless.

2. Frivolous Litigation

This includes repetitious petitions without any legitimate or reasonable grounds, i.e. a woman filling a motion for an increase of child support out of spite after seeing her former husband has happily remarried, aimed at wearing the former husband down emotionally and financially, rather than genuinely seeking the best interests of the children.

If you are found to misuse the judicial system and abuse the court process for your agenda, rather than pursuing a valid legal claim, costs will be awarded against you.

3. Income variation between parties

The court can order you as a party to reimburse some or part of the other party’s attorney fees in the event of substantial financial disparity.

If you, an investment banker sue your nearly bankrupt spouse for divorce, the court could take into consideration that to have a fair trial and for the other party to be well represented, the court can order you to cover some or part of the attorney fees that he/she is supposed to pay.

4. Special Circumstances

In some circumstances, the court can grant an order for legal fees, where it is satisfied there was an extreme power imbalance, e.g. domestic violence or abuse as well as where the court finds it to be for the best interests of the parties, children included.

Can you settle for legal fees in family court?

Yes, as parties involved in a family court case, such as divorce or child custody proceedings, you may negotiate and reach a settlement regarding the payment of legal fees. This negotiation can happen at any point during the case, including before the trial or even during the trial

Alternative options for legal fee recovery in family court

Settlement; Parties can agree for attorney fees to be covered by another party in a settlement such as divorce, alimony, child support, and custody where you agree to settle the case, a clause can be included that provides for a specific amount or percentage of the legal fees to be paid by one party to the other as part of the settlement agreement.

Legal Aid; Many legal aid organizations can provide you with free or low-cost legal services if you meet certain income and eligibility requirements. While these services may be limited in scope and availability, they can provide you with valuable assistance in navigating the family court system.


Winning a case in family court does not mean you automatically get your money back, the court will consider factors like finances, conduct, and settlement offers as discussed above.

As a litigant, it is your right to recover the costs and expenses you incurred during court cases where the other party’s actions make it fair for them to cover your costs and legal fees.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. Can you sue for legal fees in family court?

Yes, it is possible to sue for legal fees in family court. However, the requirements and conditions vary depending on the jurisdiction and specific circumstances of the case.

2. What factors are considered when determining whether to award legal fees?

Family courts consider various factors when deciding whether to award legal fees. These factors may include the financial resources of each party, the reasonableness of the fees requested, the complexity of the case, and the conduct of the parties during the proceedings.

3. Can I claim legal fees if I win my case in family court?

In some situations, if you win your case in family court, you may be able to claim legal fees from the other party. However, this is not guaranteed and will depend on the specific circumstances and the judge’s discretion.

4. Can I recover legal fees if I lose my case in family court?

Generally, you cannot recover legal fees if you lose your case in family court. Each party is responsible for their own legal expenses unless there are specific provisions or exceptions based on local laws or court rules.

5. How can I increase my chances of being awarded legal fees in family court?

To increase your chances of being awarded legal fees, it is important to present a strong case and demonstrate that the other party acted unreasonably or in bad faith. Providing evidence of financial need and the reasonableness of your requested fees can also strengthen your position.

6. Can I negotiate a settlement for legal fees in family court?

Yes, parties involved in a family court case can negotiate a settlement regarding legal fees. This can involve agreeing on a specific amount or percentage of fees to be paid by one party to the other as part of the settlement agreement.

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