When Attorney Fees Can Be Awarded in Divorce/Family Litigation

While Missouri courts normally follow the “American Rule” regarding legal fees – that each party is responsible for his or her own costs – Missouri dissolution of Marriage statutes give the court the discretion to order one party to contribute to the other party’s fees. Specifically, Section 452.355.1 provides:

Unless otherwise indicated, the court from time to time after considering all relevant factors including the financial resources of both parties, the merits of the case and the actions of the parties during the pendency of the action, may order a party to pay a reasonable amount for the cost to the other party of maintaining or defending any proceeding pursuant to sections 452.300 to 452.415 and for attorney's fees, including sums for legal services rendered and costs incurred prior to the commencement of the proceeding and after entry of a final judgment. The court may order that the amount be paid directly to the attorney, who may enforce the order in the attorney's name.

The court is always required to consider the financial resources of each party before deciding on a request for attorney’s fees. While the court must consider the financial resources of each party, a spouse is not required to forego a claim for attorney's fees merely because assets on hand are available to make payment.

In most cases, attorney fees are not an issue, and usually judges are reluctant to award attorney fees. However, when the issue does arise, the conduct of the parties during the litigation and how the judge perceives the parties are usually just as important as financial resources in determining the award.