On January 3, 2018, the Michigan Court of Appeals upheld the Ingham Circuit Court award of $58,500 in divorce attorney fees in the case of Baker v. Baker.
The Baker’s married in 1998 and filed for divorce on May 31, 2014. The parties had two minor children. Both Mr. & Mrs. Baker sought contribution for attorney fees. Ms. Baker requested $104,000.00 and Mr. Baker requested $45,500.00 in divorce attorney fees. However, Mr. Baker earned substantially more money than Ms. Baker.
Ms. Baker was unemployed from 2003 to 2014 because she was a stay at home mother. She was last employed as a rare breed horse breeder making minimal profit in 2015. Thereafter, Ms. Baker obtained employment as a secretary with Michigan State University. Mr. Baker had substantial income and ability to pay divorce attorney fees.
Divorce Attorney Fees – the law.
In a Michigan divorce case, attorney fees are authorized by both statute, MCL 552.13(1), and court rule, MCR 3.206(C). However, “attorney fees are not recoverable as of right, but rather only if “a party needs financial assistance to prosecute or defend the suit” or the fees were “incurred because of misconduct.” Fees are awarded based on their relative reasonableness and not total fees incurred. Smith v Khouri, The burden of proving reasonableness falls on the party requesting attorney fees.
In awarding Ms. Baker attorney fees, the Baker court examined testimony regarding the reasonableness on the request. When establishing the reasonableness of a fee, the court must begin by determining the fee customarily charged in the locality for similar legal services. The next factor in determining reasonableness of fees is deciding the reasonableness of hours expended by counsel. Various other factors to be considered include the difficulty of the case, the amount involved, and the results obtained.
In sustaining the award of divorce attorney fees, the Michigan Court of Appeals in the Baker case determined that the requested fees were reasonable to those customarily charged in the locality and the hours spent were also reasonable. The Court also considered the difficulty of the case, the amount involved and the results obtained.
Seeking contribution towards divorce attorney fees is justified when the requested fees are in compliance with the law provided above.
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By: Daniel Findling