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Attorney Fee Awards in Community Property States

In an action for divorce under the common law, the power to grant a party attorney's fees and expenses is within the discretion of the court. Some courts exercise such power as a part of general equity and when warranted by the parties' relative ability to pay counsel fees. Numerous factors are considered by the court in awarding such fees, the most significant of which being the time spent and the services rendered by an attorney in representing a party in the divorce.

Financial Discovery Issues in Divorce Cases

In divorce, financial discovery concentrates on the economic aspects of the marriage and the spouses' financial circumstances. Detailed financial discovery allows both spouses to obtain the information needed to present a complete and accurate representation of the family's assets and liabilities. With that information, the divorce court can fashion a fair marital property division and an appropriate support order.

Grounds for Annulment: Duress, Force, and Fraud

To base annulment on force, restraint, or threats, the duress must have been the inducing cause of the marriage such that the consent to marry would not have been given but for the duress. Moreover, the force or duress must continue to the time of the wedding ceremony. Annulment generally will not be granted for duress if the coerced spouse has the ability to escape or overcome the force or duress.

Impact of Bankruptcy Laws on Divorce Generally

Traditionally, the entire gamut of matrimonial law has been a creature of state law, not federal law. As such, federal courts generally may not intervene in the marital area unless a particular issue comes into conflict with federal law. Bankruptcy is one such area, and it can arise because of the effect that divorce has on spouses' property ownership and financial situation. In divorces involving a complex asset structure or extensive and varied types of property, bankruptcy by both spouses certainly can affect marital property distribution, depending in part on what distribution scheme the forum state follows. Otherwise, it often is the bankruptcy of only one spouse initially that sets off the complicated bankruptcy-divorce scenario.

Temporary Counsel Fees in Divorce

Courts may grant interim attorney fees, while a divorce case is pending, to the spouse who lacks control over the marital assets that will be used to pay the fees. Granting interim relief in a divorce proceeding serves to promote fairness and impartiality by enabling the dependent spouse to maintain or defend the divorce action without being placed at a financial disadvantage. The dependent spouse often can secure attorney fees for appeals as well. Temporary counsel fees often can be estimated by using "rule of thumb" or local custom.


Quindlen & Merrifield, P.A.

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