The Statute that directs whether the other party would contribute towards the attorney’s fees and costs of the other party in a family Court matter is Minn. Stat. § 518.14 which states that,
“The court shall award attorney fees, costs, and disbursements in an amount necessary to enable a party to carry on or contest the proceeding, provided it finds:
- that the fees are necessary for the good faith assertion of the party’s rights in the proceeding and will not contribute unnecessarily to the length and expense of the proceeding;
- that the party from whom fees, costs, and disbursements are sought has the means to pay them; and
- that the party to whom fees, costs, and disbursements are awarded does not have the means to pay them.”
The Statute goes further to say, “Nothing in this section… precludes the court from awarding, in its discretion, additional fees, costs, and disbursements against a party who unreasonably contributes to the length or expense of the proceeding.” (emphasis mine)
In my experience the way I most often see fees awarded to one party form the other party is based on the ability to pay vs. need test. With this test, the Court will assess the incomes, expenses, assets, and liabilities of the parties. The ability of the party from whom attorney’s fees are requested to be paid is balanced against the need of the party that is requesting the other party to pay towards his or her fees. In cases when there is significant disparity in the incomes of the parties, the Court may consider awarding fees of the opposing side to the party requesting those fees.
Additionally, the other time that I have seen fees awarded is when the Court uses the fees as a sanction against the party for bad-faith actions that party has done in the proceeding. For instance, if a party does unreasonably contribute to the length and expense of the proceeding by not following Court Orders, taking steps to intentionally delay matters, the Court can sanction that party by awarding fees against that party and in favor the party that was harmed.
The answer to the question, can the Court make the other party pay a portion of the fees, is yes.
I will note that in my experience most Courts will require both parties to pay their own attorney fees and costs; however, in special circumstances as those are described in the Statute, the Court has the ability to Order fees from a party towards the other party’s fees.
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