MAY ATTORNEY FEES BE AWARDED IN A DIVORCE PROCEEDING, AND IF SO, HOW MUCH CAN BE AWARDED?
Sometimes the black letter law passed by the legislature is unclear. The legislature can’t anticipate every possible fact scenario when they pass a law, so it lay to the courts to interpret the law and give guidance to what it means. This interpretation is called case law. When the court decides a certain meeting to the law it essentially answers a legal question. Lawyers and other courts then can rely on that ruling when they have a similar issue in their case. The following case answers the question above.
In re Marriage of Langley, 2017 WL 1534853 (Kan. Ct. App. April 28, 2017).
This case answers the following question:
May attorney fees be awarded in a divorce proceeding, and if so, how much can be awarded?
The issue in this case is whether attorney fees may be awarded to either party in a divorce proceeding, and if so, how much can be awarded. In Kansas, a district court may grant either party costs and attorney fees as justice and equity require in a divorce action or later proceedings related to child custody. When determining the amount of attorney’s fees to shift, the court must determine how much the attorney’s time is worth, and how much of the attorney’s time should be shifted.
In this case, a husband and wife were married in July 2007 and had a child in May 2008. In July 2009, the husband filed a petition for divorce, and the wife filed and answer and counter-petition. The court granted a divorce decree in September 2010 and later enter a judgment establishing child custody, parent time, and the couple’s financial rights and obligations arising from the marriage. Both during and after the divorce decree, child custody was a major issue of contention between the parties. Early in the proceedings, the court had assigned a case manager to help ease some of the contention. The parties were working with their second case manager when the husband filed a motion seeking a contempt order against his wife and a change in child custody. After denying the motions, the district court granted the wife’s request for attorney fees and awarded her $3,000. The husband timely appealed the $3,000 award of attorney fees.
In Kansas, a district court may grant either party costs and attorney fees as justice and equity require in a divorce action or later proceedings related to child custody. When determining the amount of attorney’s fees to shift, the court must determine how much the attorney’s time is worth, and how much of the attorney’s time should be shifted. A district court has broad discretion to grant attorney fees. As the court noted, in a divorce proceeding, the outcome of the legal dispute does not dictate a fee award, nor is it required that the award goes to a prevailing party. The district court must consider the need of one party weighed against the financial ability of the other party to pay. After weighing the considerations, the district court should apply the criteria outlined in Rule 1.5(a) of the Kansas Rules of Professional Conduct (2017 Kan. S. Ct. R. 292).
The Court of Appeals of Kansas affirmed the decision of the district court, finding that the $3,000 award of attorney fees was appropriate. While the record did not contain the specific circumstances that the district court considered, the court of appeals presumed that the district court had made sufficient findings.