Can I Make My Ex Pay Legal Fees?


In high-conflict or high-asset divorces, the average cost of legal fees can be high enough to make them to make you question whether you can factor them into your divorce settlement. This stipulation may even seem just to you because you didn’t want the divorce, or are pursuing the divorce because of some wrongdoing on your spouse’s part.

So, can you make your ex pay your legal fees? The answer is, of course, a solid, “it depends.” Here’s what you need to know.

Yes, the judge can order one party to pay the other party’s legal fees.

Pennsylvania courts do allow for this sort of compensation as part of the overall divorce settlement. Legal fees can be one of the awards offered in the normal course of equitable distribution.

The judge may decide to award no legal fees, partial legal fees, or full legal fees.

What are the factors driving the decision?

The judge makes two decisions: whether you should get legal fees at all, and what percentage of those fees your ex should pay. Four factors play into this decision.

  • Whether a significant income gap exists between you and your spouse.
  • Whether either one of you has engaged in bad behavior during the course of the divorce.
  • Court’s opinions on the reasonableness of the lawyer’s fees and the necessity of the lawyer’s actions during the court case.
  • Other factors, at court’s discretion.

Most of these are self-explanatory, but “bad behavior” could probably use a little more examination.

What does “bad behavior” entail?

Bad behavior could be any kind of behavior which makes it look as if you or your spouse are acting in bad faith.

For example, making false accusations to try to make the other party look bad, hiding money and forcing an expensive discovery process, or engaging in any kind of hurtful or vindictive behavior you can think of could all play a role in a judge’s decision to saddle you or your ex with legal fees.

For these reasons, and because of the detrimental effects of acting unreasonably during the divorce process in general, we will not always advise going on the offensive or drawing out the divorce process just because our client’s emotions guide them in that direction. Fighting as hard as you possibly can isn’t always very smart.

It’s our job to help you have the most successful divorce possible, and that won’t happen if you end up saddled with your ex’s legal fees because the court perceives that you have done everything in your power to make the process longer and harder than it has to be.

Everything is negotiable.

Most divorces don’t make it into the courtroom, and this is usually better for all parties. If you would like your ex to take on your legal fees as part of your overall divorce settlement you can certainly ask for that. Just keep in mind you might have to give something else up as part of the normal give-and-take of the negotiation process.

You should always consult with a qualified family lawyer before trying to make decisions about what to offer and ask for. Getting legal fees paid may look great in the short term but may penalize you to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars in the long term. Make sure you’re not shooting yourself in the foot just to walk away with a concession that looks good on paper but plays out poorly in practice.

Do you have additional questions or concerns about an impending divorce? Please don’t hesitate to take advantage of one of our free consultations.

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