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Attorney's Fee Awards in a Georgia Divorce or Modification Action

Attorney's fee awards are generally considered a subset of alimony. Under O.C.G.A. section 19-6-2, at a temporary hearing, fees can be awarded based on disparity of income or cash reserves to allow either spouse to secure fair representation - an "even playing field". Per 19-6-2(a)(1), the court, in awarding either temporary or permanent attorney's fees, must consider the financial circumstances of both spouses.

Attorney's fees can be awarded at a temporary hearing or at a final trial. Attorney's fees can be awarded to allow a spouse who had limited cash to receive the resources from either the marital estate or from the opposing spouse to receive proper representation in the case. Georgia Divorce Lawyer Russell Hippe has asserted these positions. He has also defeated claims for attorney's fees at final trial. In one specific case, a prominent firm was requesting more than $100,000 in fees and the ultimate award was less than $10,000.

Also, if one spouse is unnecessarily driving up costs and expanding the litigation without cause, a court can award attorney fees based on statutes outside Title 19, O.C.G.A. section 9-15-14 for example. There are other specific statutes that allow for the award of attorney's fees in the domestic context. For example, in an action to modify child support, O.C.G.A. 19-6-15(k)(5) allows for the award of attorney's fees to the "prevailing party" as the interests of justice may require. In an action to modify custody, O.C.G.A. section 19-9-3(g) gives the trial court broad discretion to award fees in a custody modification action. Under O.C.G.A. section 19-9-3(g), the court does not have to consider financial circumstances or whether the moving party is the "prevailing party".

Relevant Authority

OCGA § 19–6–2 authorizes the trial court in a divorce action to exercise its sound discretion and, after considering the financial circumstances of the parties, to award attorney fees as necessary to ensure the effective representation of both parties. Mongerson v. Mongerson, 285 Ga. 554(7), 678 S.E.2d 891 (2009). The court must specify the code section that is the basis of the award. See,Leggette v. Leggette, 284 Ga. 432(2), 668 S.E.2d 251 (2008) (reversing award where motion sought fees pursuant to both OCGA §§ 19–6–2 and 9–15–14, and the award was made without findings of fact or specification of statutory basis).

Under OCGA § 9–15–14, a trial court may award attorney fees against any party who has acted to cause delay or harassment or who has unnecessarily expanded the litigation by improper conduct including discovery abuses.

Miller v. Miller, 288 Ga. 274, 281, 705 S.E.2d 839, 846 (2010).

Practice Pointers

If you are an attorney seeking future fees in a temporary hearing, you should come to court with a written, reasonable approximation of costs and expenses (drafted in the form of a proposed order for the judge), including any special financial experts that may be necessary to assist in the case, or the costs of a guardian ad litem, if this involvement is warranted. If you are seeking the award of fees based on billing already charged to the client, make sure opposing counsel has seen the bill in advance of the attorney's fees hearing (all privileged / confidential content redacted of course) and has had an opportunity to review for the accuracy of the bill and the reasonableness of the time spent and the rate charged. All requests for attorney's fees should be both realistic and reasonable.

Client Reviews
“Thanks so much Mr. Hippe for a great job. Mr. Hippe helped me with a problem with the mother of my child, who would not respect my visitation. He filed the contempt and took care of the situation before the judge in Douglas County, securing a clear order than she cannot interfere with my visitation ever again. Thanks again!” L.R. Atlanta, Georgia
“My experience with Russell Hippe has been wonderful. The first time I called him, I was in a panic not knowing what to do. He was able to see me the very next day. Two days later he filed my divorce. It has been a long road to freedom but he was available every step of the way and his conservative billing style was much appreciated. He is truly a trust worthy attorney. I will definitely recommend him to others seeking a divorce.” M.G. Atlanta, Georgia
“Mr. Russell Hippe is a fantastic lawyer. He took charge of my case involving my step children and helped my wife get custody at a contested hearing. Thanks to him my family is far better off. The children are much happier and are excelling. I can give him the highest, best recommendation as family and trial lawyer.” J.P. Atlanta, Georgia
“I can give Mr. Russell Hippe the highest recommendation. He took my divorce case, did not push me into filing, but once I decided to file, he did a great job. My wife hired a top, super expensive divorce firm, but Mr. Hippe was better, in my view. He handled discovery and depositions skillfully and managed to get the case settled on terms favorable to me. He was fair in his billing, and I know he saved me a lot of money.” S.A. Atlanta, Georgia
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