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Leveling Out Lawyer Fees in Chicago Divorce Cases

Whether you are currently in the midst of a Chicago divorce or parentage action, many people with cases in domestic relations court are unable to afford their legal fees. In fact, many people often find themselves in situations in which they are unable to pay their fees while their ex has unlimited resources and is using this as an intimidation tactic. Having an ex who is attempting to use their financial resources to “get their way” or attempt to force you into settlement can often lead to feelings of helplessness and like you have no other choice but to “give in.” Thankfully, this is not the case.

In any action brought under the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (i.e., Chicago divorce, paternity, or post-decree matters), the Court generally recognizes the notion known as “leveling the playing field.” This premise keeps one party from using any financial advantage they may have to drive up the costs of litigation in an effort to disadvantage the other party.

In pre-decree Chicago divorce matters (“pre-decree” meaning divorce actions prior to entry of a Judgment for Dissolution of Marriage) the Court will look to Section 750 ILCS 5/501(c-1) in whether an award of attorneys’ fees (both interim and prospective) is appropriate. Often in pre-decree matters, the court will pull from marital assets or alleged non-marital assets in order to “level the playing field” meaning that the court may ask the higher-earning spouse to pull from their income or assets (marital or non-marital) in order to assist the disadvantaged spouse. In looking at whether a fee award is appropriate in a pre-decree dissolution matter, the courts will often use the following factors:

(A) the income and property of each party, including alleged marital property within the sole control of one party and alleged non-marital property within access to a party;

(B) the needs of each party;

(C) the realistic earning capacity of each party;

(D) any impairment to present earning capacity of either party, including age and physical and emotional health;

(E) the standard of living established during the marriage;

(F) the degree of complexity of the issues, including allocation of parental responsibility, valuation or division (or both) of closely held businesses, and tax planning, as well as reasonable needs for expert investigations or expert witnesses, or both;

(G) each party’s access to relevant information;

(H) the amount of the payment or payments made or reasonably expected to be made to the attorney for the other party; and

(I) any other factor that the court expressly finds to be just and equitable.

While 750 ILCS 5/501 governs pre-decree matters, 750 ILCS 5/508 governs an award of attorneys’ fees in Chicago post-decree (ie cases initiated to address issues after the divorce is concluded and Chicago parentage matters (ie unmarried parents). Like in pre-decree matters, the court will look at the income and assets of both parties in whether an award of attorney’s fees is appropriate and may ask the higher earning party to pull from their individual income or assets. However, unlike in pre-decree matters, Chicago Divorce Courts are also going to give more weight and look more closely at how much each party has already paid toward their attorneys’ fees. Given that there are no marital assets to pull from, the Court will require both parties to disclose any and all attorneys’ fees already paid and the source of those payments to determine whether the higher-earning party does in fact have ample financial resources to “level the playing field.” With that said, if you have paid more in attorney’s fees than your ex, the court will likely not be able to award you fees as they will deem the playing field “level.”

Whether you are the disadvantaged party or your ex is looking to come after you for fees, the attorneys at Ward Family Law, LLC have decades of experience in handling all Chicago divorce and paternity issues related to requests for fees and would love the chance to help you get your case on track! Reach out to Jennifer R. Ward, our Founder, to schedule your initial consultation today: jward@wardfamilylawchicago.com

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