A divorce lawyer is one of your most powerful resources during a divorce. Their insights and experience can help ensure you receive a fair division of assets, solid custody arrangements, and generally makes the process smoother. That said, there’s no denying that such valuable collaborators can come with a significant price tag, particularly in complex cases. 

This is something that can cause some people to be hesitant in engaging a lawyer. While it’s always responsible to consider your finances, this shouldn’t see you sacrifice your best chance for fair representation. So, what are your options? Well, in some situations, spouses find themselves asking “can I make my spouse pay for my divorce lawyer?”

This is a subject worth looking into and may well be relevant to your case. Let’s explore it a little further.

Who Pays the Fees?

When we look at whether you can make your spouse pay for your divorce lawyer, it’s important to consider how the state of Colorado treats legal representation in these cases. Yes, to some extent Colorado operates on the basis that each party in a divorce is responsible for their individual legal fees. However, this isn’t the end of the matter.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that Colorado also adheres to the principle that both parties have the right to legal representation. The couple’s individual financial standing shouldn’t mean either party is unfairly disadvantaged because one spouse is able to afford better legal representation than the other.

Therefore, there are circumstances in which attorney’s fees can be built into the final financial settlement of the divorce. Most of the time, this sees them effectively being taken care of by the joint assets of the marital estate. In some instances, though, a spouse with the majority of the household earnings and individual property may also be expected to contribute to their lower-earning spouse’s legal fees. This is outlined under the Colorado revised statute 14-10-119 as follows:

“The court from time to time, after considering the financial resources of both parties, may order a party to pay a reasonable amount for the cost to the other party of maintaining or defending any proceeding under this article and for attorney's fees, including sums for legal services rendered and costs incurred prior to the commencement of the proceeding or after entry of judgment. The court may order that the amount be paid directly to the attorney, who may enforce the order in his name.”

Certainly, this isn’t as simple as saying you can always expect a higher-earning spouse to take on the entirety of your divorce lawyer’s costs. There are nuanced factors that are taken into consideration and the aim is always to ensure fairness both in the quality of representation and the division of the costs.

Grounds for Negotiating for Fees

As the divorce process gets underway, negotiating the responsibility for attorney's fees should be a key point on the agenda. This might be less relevant if both parties have a similar level of income and individual property. Their comparable access to financial resources isn’t as likely to disrupt the opportunity to gain fair representation.

That said, if either of the following circumstances are in place, you should work with your attorney to address legal fees in the settlement negotiations.

Financial disparity

When we talk about financial disparity in negotiations over attorney fees, this can’t just be a minor difference between income levels. Usually, for this to hold any weight, there must be a significant gap. Colorado is an equitable distribution state, which means the intention is to ensure both parties get a fair division of marital assets following a divorce. Therefore, in the best case scenarios the wealth difference won’t be extreme.

That said, various factors will be taken into account when negotiating division, including each individual’s contribution to assets and their economic circumstances. This doesn’t always guarantee a 50/50 split of all assets. This is particularly common if a spouse gained substantial wealth prior to a marriage, through inheritance, or a prenuptial agreement is in place. As a result, there can still be times that one spouse’s financial resources are significantly more than the other. This could be a basis on which to negotiate either for your higher-earning spouse to contribute to attorney fees or for the division of assets to take into account your legal expenses.   

Unreasonable conduct

Another circumstance you may be able to negotiate for your legal fees is if your spouse demonstrates unreasonable conduct during the proceedings. This isn’t about them exhibiting anger in your direction. After all, this can be an emotionally-charged situation. Rather, it refers to behavior that tangibly impacts your legal expenses.

Perhaps the most common example of this is causing delays. They might appear to be cooperating with negotiations at first, only to repeatedly turn down reasonable arrangements and request revisions or to begin the process from scratch. Dragging out negotiations in this manner tends to make your legal fees higher. If it becomes clear that this is intended to negatively impact your resources or is simply out of spite, there’s a reasonable expectation to negotiate for the additional costs. Though, asking for the entirety of your fees is less likely to fly.

Seeking Intervention from the Courts

While negotiation and settlement are preferred avenues for resolving financial matters in a divorce, there are instances where it might be necessary to seek court intervention regarding attorney's fees. It’s particularly wise if the reason for seeking a contribution to fees is your spouse’s unreasonable conduct.

This involves instructing your attorney to file a motion with the court to either evaluate and make a ruling on the entire settlement, or just with regard to the legal fees. An attorney with experience navigating the Colorado family courts should be able to advise you on your likelihood of success here. The last thing you want is to risk having to pay additional legal fees for a hearing that doesn’t have a reasonable chance of success. 

You’ll then collaborate with your attorney to gather evidence to support your claim to either the entirety of your legal fees or the relevant portion of them. This might include financial statements that demonstrate a clear disparity that impacts your ability to maintain fair representation. It could also be negotiation meeting notes, witness statements, or communication records that illustrate how your spouse’s unreasonable conduct has raised the legal costs.

Be mindful, though, that this may not speed up the resolution of your case. While it may result in an order for your spouse to pay all or part of your attorney fees, you may be waiting several months for your case to be heard. Not to mention that your spouse may seek to dispute any outcome. Don’t be put off from taking the matter to the courts if there is a genuine case to answer, though. Remember that you have a right to be treated fairly. Rather, this is simply information you should consider when setting your expectations.

Wrapping Up

There may be some circumstances that your spouse can be expected to pay all or part of your legal fees. However, there are various nuances at play here, such as the extent of financial disparities or the tangible costs of their unreasonable conduct during the divorce process. Remember, though, that this isn’t about avoiding any financial responsibility for your representation. As with so much of family law, it’s vital to work with your attorney to make decisions and negotiations that are aimed at ensuring a fair outcome for everyone involved.