It is essential that you discuss the terms of your lawyer’s compensation during the first consultation. Engaging an attorney without initially establishing the financial relationship may lead to misunderstanding, particularly where a family law problem is involved.
You should not be reluctant or embarrassed to ask yow lawyer (or any other professional) about his/her fees and expenses. Each attorney determines a fee basis which may run the gamut from a “fixed fee” for the service to utilization of an hourly rate.
Yow responsibility for payment of fees and disbursements should be embodied in a written retainer agreement. The agreement sets forth, among other things, the nature of the services to be rendered and financial terms including provisions relating to disbursements.
Where a spouse in a matrimonial action (whether as a plaintiff or defendant) cannot afford to retain an attorney, the law authorizes the court to direct payment of counsel fees. The amount of fee to be awarded is within the discretion of the court. However, there is a rebuttable presumption that the “monied spouse” will be responsible for the payment of legal fees.
An award of counsel fees for the litigation expenses of a matrimonial action is often made on an interim (“pendente lite”) basis before the case is reached for trial, where counsel fees are required to enable a spouse to properly proceed with the litigation.
A less affluent spouse should not be put at a disadvantage in obtaining legal counsel because of the cost of representation and other necessary services. Thus, a spouse may also apply to the court for payment of other expenses, such as fees for the services of “experts”, including accountants, appraisers, actuaries and investigators.
In equitable distribution cases, experts are often essential to assist in the identification and evaluation of marital property and determination of spousal support. For example, the court may award expert fees where a spouse seeks to reduce his/her obligation for support. In one case, the husband sought a reduction in his support obligation after liquidating his business interests, claiming that his income had ceased. The Court noted that the husband had produced voluminous business records which filled suitcases and shopping bags. The Court determined that the wife was unable to pay for the services of an accountant or appraiser to review her husband’s voluminous records and awarded a fee for the wife’s engagment of an accountant’s services and a fee for appraisal services.