Generally, in litigation in the U.S., each party is responsible for paying his/her own attorney’s fees. However, there are special rules in family law cases that allow a judge to award attorney’s fees for certain family law matters.
In a custody or child support matter, including a motion to modify custody or child support, a judge may in his/her discretion order one party to pay reasonable attorney’s fees for the other party. The parent who seeks an award of attorney’s fees must act in good faith and have insufficient means to defray the expense of the suit. When only child support is involved, before ordering payment of attorney’s fee, the judge must find that the party ordered to pay support refused to provide adequate support under the circumstances. If a spouse is entitled to receive postseparation support or alimony, a judge may order the supporting spouse to pay the dependent spouse’s reasonable attorney’s fees. A judge can also award attorney’s fees in a contempt action, when a party willfully fails to comply with a court order. No attorney’s fees can be awarded for equitable distribution. While a judge has discretion to award attorney’s fees in limited circumstances, a party cannot rely on an award of attorney’s fees to finance a family law case.