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One of the most important questions to many people facing divorce is whether their spouse can be ordered to pay their attorney’s fees. Similarly, many wonder whether they will be forced to pay their spouse’s attorney’s fees. Indeed, family law is one of the few areas of law in North Carolina in which a court can award attorney’s fees. The availability of attorney’s fees varies between the different parts of the divorce case.
In an action for divorce, alimony, child support, or child custody, the court is permitted to award attorney’s fees to the party seeking support if the court finds that party has insufficient means to defray the expenses of the lawsuit. This does not necessarily mean that the party seeking fees is unable to hire an attorney. The court will determine whether to award attorney’s fees based on the dependent spouse’s disposable income (total income minus necessary living expenses) and on her separate property. Attorney’s fees may also be awarded for modification or enforcement of support or custody orders.
Attorney’s fees are never available for the property division portion of the case.