Divorce is personal and it is easy to feel attacked or wronged by your spouse or even their attorney. Clients take it personally when the other side files inflammatory or seemingly unsupported pleadings, refuses to respond to discovery, or otherwise seems to delay or interfere with the litigation process. In certain situations the court can punish the opposing party (and sometimes even their attorney) for these bad acts and/or misconduct by order them to pay the innocent party’s attorney fees.
Under Texas law, a court may impose sanctions on the offending party, their attorney, or both for improper conduct including abusing the discovery process, making false statements to the court, filing frivolous or groundless pleadings, and failing to properly serve or deliver pleadings or motions, and for failing to comply with a court order. These sanctions can include attorney fees. A court can impose sanctions (including attorney fees) at the request of a party or, in some cases, on the court’s own initiative.
In deciding whether to award attorney fees as sanctions, the court can consider all matters that have occurred in the litigation — not just the specific violation(s) alleged. Also, the court is justified in refusing to impose sanctions if both sides are equally guilty of poor conduct or bad acts.
I hope this series has helped to shed light on the different ways a court can award attorney fees in a Texas divorce or other family law proceeding. Keep in mind in most of these situations the decision on whether or not to award fees is discretionary – meaning that even if the court has the statutory ability to award attorney’s fees, the judge might decide not to at the end of the day.