A Discussion of Attorneys’ Fees, Lifetime Alimony and Sole Child Custody
Oftentimes in the context of a Bucks County, PA divorce, the answer to this question is “not that often.” There are many demands that one can make under the law, but that does not mean that the likelihood of success is equally high with respect to all of them. It is important to know how Pennsylvania courts approach the various requests, as a lack of knowledge can lead to much unnecessary distress. We tackle some of the most common such requests here.
Attorneys’ Fees in a Pennsylvania Divorce
“Petitioner hereby requests that Respondent be solely responsible for his/her attorneys’ fees incurred in connection with….” The request that the responding party pay for all of the petitioning party’s attorneys’ fees can be made at the very beginning of a Bucks County, PA divorce action (in the Divorce Complaint or Answer to Divorce Complaint) and subsequently can be made in all sorts of divorce-related pleadings (i.e., special relief, equitable distribution, etc.). For many, this is a very troublesome and distressing request to see when reviewing a pleading, because paying for one’s own attorneys’ fees is enough of a financial burden as it is.
The good news is that, absent extenuating circumstances, each party typically pays for his or her own attorneys’ fees and not the other party’s attorneys’ fees on top of that. What are some of these extenuating circumstances? Below are two examples.
- A party refuses to cooperate with discovery requirements and forces the other party to seek court intervention in order to obtain the necessary documentation and information. Compliance with discovery requests is crucial for moving a Pennsylvania divorce action along, and judges do not want to get involved with the logistics. If there are legitimate questions surrounding the discovery requests, that is one thing, but if a party simply does not do what is required, that is something else. In that case, it is entirely possible that an award of attorneys’ fees will be entered against the non-complying party.
- A party violates the terms of an existing court order. As might be expected, judges expect that parties will comply with the court orders that they enter; stated otherwise, compliance with court orders is not optional but mandatory. The more intentional the violation, the higher the liability for payment of the other party’s attorneys’ fees. For instance, if a party insists on violating the court order after being put on notice by opposing counsel that such violation will not be tolerated, the judge will be even more displeased, because of how willful the violation is (making it that much more disrespectful to the judge).
“Petitioner hereby requests that Respondent pay him/her lifetime alimony.” Few things are more alarming than thinking that you will be financially responsible for your soon to be former spouse for the rest of your life. Judges are equally wary of having individuals remain part of the court system for such a prolonged and indefinite period of time, which is why lifetime alimony tends to be reserved for the outlier cases.
Chances are, your case does not fall in this outlier category. To provide some context, an outlier case would be one where the parties were married for 25 years and are approximately 50 years old at the time of separation, and one of the parties has become disabled to the point where employment is impossible, and the parties’ marital estate is not particularly large. In such a case, the disabled spouse will not be able to sustain himself or herself going forward, absent ongoing financial assistance, and the parties were married long enough to justify such continued support.
“Petitioner hereby requests sole legal and physical custody of the parties’ children.” Stated otherwise, Petitioner is requesting that Respondent have absolutely no involvement in the children’s lives. While one party may think that he or she is the only parent that the children need, judges almost always disagree. Unless a party has serious issues (i.e., abuses the children, engages in drug or alcohol abuse to the point where the children cannot be around, is a dangerous criminal, etc.), such party will get time with the children; the only question is how much time. Therefore, this type of request tends to serve as an indication of the pleading party’s mindset, not as something that actually is a possible result.
As you can see from the above, just because something is written in a court filing does not mean that it is legitimate or based in reality as far as possible outcomes. Rather than stressing yourself unnecessarily, seek the advice of knowledgeable PA divorce and custody lawyer who can tell you what is or is not a source of concern.