If you are seeking alimony from your spouse or ex-spouse, then you may also ask the court to order your spouse to reimburse you for the legal fees you incurred pursuing alimony. This also applies if you are seeking postseparation support, which is the name for temporary spousal support in North Carolina. Whether you are awarded attorney’s fees is in the court’s discretion.
Counsel Fees in Alimony and Postseparation Support Actions
In North Carolina, the ability to receive attorney’s fees in an action for spousal support is governed by N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50-16.4. This statute provides that a court may award attorney’s fees: (1) to a “dependent spouse;” (2) who would be entitled to alimony or postseparation support; and (3) is without sufficient means to defray the costs of litigation.
A dependent spouse is defined in N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50-16.1A as “a spouse, whether husband or wife, who is actually substantially dependent upon the other spouse for his or her maintenance and support or is substantially in need of maintenance and support from the other spouse.” A dependent spouse is not required to deplete his or her estate before receiving counsel fees.
When determining whether a dependent spouse has insufficient means to defray his or her litigation expenses without substantially depleting his or her estate, the court generally focuses on the disposable income and estate of the dependent spouse.
Receiving Attorney’s Fees is About Fairness
The Supreme Court of North Carolina has stated that “the purpose of the allowance of counsel fees is to enable the dependent spouse, as litigant, to meet the supporting spouse, as litigant, on substantially even terms by making it possible for the dependent spouse to employ adequate counsel.” Williams v. Williams, 299 N.C. 174, 190, 261 S.E.2d 849, 860 (1980).
An award of counsel fees strives to place the dependent spouse on substantially even terms with the supporting spouse in litigation. Additionally, an award of counsel fees should enable a dependent spouse to maintain his or her standard of living and employ counsel to meet the supporting spouse at trial on equal terms.
Remember, to receive attorney’s fees in an alimony action: (1) you must be a dependent spouse; (2) you must be entitled to alimony; and (3) you must be without sufficient means to defray the costs of litigation. If you believe that you are a dependent spouse entitled to alimony and attorney’s fees, contact Allman Spry today to schedule a consultation with a dedicated North Carolina family law attorney.